A number of routes near the 600-metre archaeological site are being considered. The final decision on the route has yet to be made by Environment Minister Dick Roche.
“We have been giving it some thought as to the feasibility of devising a slightly different route,” Michael Egan, head of corporate affairs at the NRA, confirmed. “We’re reasonably optimistic a viable alternative could be found if that is the effect of the minister’s decision,” he said.
The NRA is confident a rerouting of the section of the bypass near the Viking site would not delay the three-year project, expected to commence later this year. The scheme incorporates a second river crossing for Waterford city.
“The NRA is satisfied that recent legislation will mean any changes to the project will not unduly hamper the timeframe or cost of an alternative road plan,” Mr Egan said.
Under the National Monument’s Act 2004, the minister must have regard not only for the “preservation, protection and maintenance of archaeology” but also for the “social or economic benefit” that would come to the area as a result of carrying out the road development.
“The new law protects the overall road scheme ... but allows the possibility of limited changes to the route where there is archaeology of special importance,” he said.
Ultimately, this means progress could be made on the bypass parallel to assessing how to proceed with the “area of change”. “We would welcome the minister’s direction to bring clarity to the situation,” Mr Egan said.
Progress on the bypass has been suspended since May following discovery of the site, believed to be one of the oldest Viking settlements in western Europe.
A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment said reports about rerouting the bypass were “mere speculation”. “The minister is still awaiting a report and a decision will be made then,” she said.