Mid-West Correspondent Jimmy Woulfe tells how the proposed Foynes-Limerick road scheme may, after years of frustration, offer relief of a bypass for the town Adare.
Back in the days of horse-drawn carriages, 19th century Limerick poet Gerald Griffin extolled Adare as a “soft retreat” where visitors were enchanted and embraced in it “verdant bosom”.
Today, while it is still a major tourism destination, motorists face the heritage village with a sense of foreboding and resignation in its unwanted status of an increasing national traffic bottleneck.
The picture postcard village is on the N21 gateway to the south-west and, in 2014, the lengthening traffic glut had grown to 15,000 vehicles passing through daily.
Last year, the figure spiralled to 16,500 and continuing to getting worse.
As motorists suffer in silence, the much-maligned bureaucratic mandarins in Brussels stepped in and ordered action. Their focus was not drawn to Adare, but to Foynes — a designated core port set out in the Tans European Transport Network shipping location.
To harness the port’s massive potential as a 24-hour deep water facility, the Government was ordered by the EU to open up a new road connecting the port to Limerick by 2030.
Three years ago Limerick City and County Council commenced design on a proposed €300m Foynes-Limerick scheme which, crucially, includes a bypass of Adare on a 32km-long route.
Instead of opting for the current N69 skirting the Shannon Estuary and running parallel to Askeaton and Mungret, they chose an inland route tracking from Foynes southwards towards Rathkeale and then taking a line close to the current N21 joining the Limerick City ring road network at Attlfyin on the Cork side of Patrickswell.
The Foynes/Rathkeale section will be a two-lane carriageway and the Rathkeale to Attyflin (including the Adare bypass) will be a four-lane motorway/dual carriageway.
Now that the route has been more or less finalised, talks have begun with about 150 farmers in West Limerick, who will lose up to 800 acres. Some 10 family homes are in the direct line of fire of the proposed roadway.
David Leahy, senior executive engineer at the Mid-West Roads Design Office, has the challenge of overseeing the project and its completion, on time.
“The project provides a high-quality road connection between the port of Foynes and Limerick and, at the same time, the chosen option will include a bypass of Adare, relieving a major traffic bottleneck on the national road network,” he said.
The critical section, bypassing Adare, will link Foynes to the N21 at Rathkeale.
The so-called ‘orange route’ chosen in 2015 had a corridor 300m wide. After public consultations and further assessment, this route was narrowed last September to a revised blue corridor, 100m in width.
Mr Leahy said: “This could be further changed in the next update which we expect to have completed in April or May.”
However, it is not expected to shift too far from the revised blue route proposal.
The final plan of the new road with an environmental impact statement will be submitted to An Bord Pleanala by next December.
Most likely, an oral hearing will be scheduled and, if the plans do not hit any major controversies or compulsory purchase setbacks, a decision is expected from An Bord Pleanala in 2018.
The planning office is confident contractors will be on site by 2020/2021 with a completion date around 2024. All funding will come from the central exchequer and Europe.
Mr Leahy said there had been very good feedback. Discussions are now taking place with landowners and people’s whose homes face demolition.
If and when final approval is received from An Bord Pleanala in 2018, the question of compensation will kick in as valuations are put forward by land/property owners with the council being brought to the negotiation table.
In the event of matters not reaching a satisfactory conclusion, the issue of compensation will go to arbitration.
So far, the only potential stumbling block came in the shape of a megalithic cashel -circular stone wall — found on land between Foynes and Limerick. Due to its archaeological importance, the revised route was tweaked.
Mr Leahy said: “To avoid the cashel which is subject of a preservation order under the National Monuments Acts, we had to move the revised corridor by about 250m.”
As well as land owners and families who will be directly affected, many others fear the new road network will impact on their quality of life, due to traffic noises, the beam of lights at night and hazards such as exhaust fumes.
“As part of the environmental study this will set out to identify how the proposed route will affect people living near to areas through which the roadway will run,” Mr Leahy said.
“We are at the design stage now where we are looking at the corridor which was aligned last September.”
While the tailbacks on either side of Adare get longer, a growing ‘rat-run’ menace is emerging on quiet county roads in the area as motorists seek alternative routes which skirt the village.
Due to increasing complaints by worried residents, gardaí are monitoring local roads.
Meanwhile, the Adare bottleneck mess is destined to get a lot worse before it gets better.
But, for now, the only way to calm frustration if caught in the village’s snail-pace traffic is take the advice of the wordsmith Griffin and bask in its ‘thousand charms and sylvan splendour’.
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