Reverend Fathers, Mayor of Limerick City Council, Cllr Joe Ledden, Cathaoirleach of Limerick County Council, Mr Eddie Creighton, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am delighted to be here today to join in celebrating the start of work on this major new project for the Limerick region and for this locality - the second phase of the N7 Southern Ring Road-which is one of the most significant pieces of transport infrastructure in the Mid - West. This important undertaking, marked by today's sod-turning, involves 10 kilometres of new dual carriageway and 900 meters of Shannon tunnel. It will bring many benefits to the national roads network as well as to this region.
As you are aware, there has been major investment in roads in the Limerick area in recent years including the completion of Phase 1 of the Southern Ring Road, Adare/Patrickswell/Limerick, the N20 Croom Bypass, the construction of the N18 Ennis Bypass due to be completed in 2007 and the N7 Nenagh to Limerick Scheme due to commence shortly. This Phase 2 of the N7 Southern Ring Road is due to be completed in 2010.
This project also marks the commencement of work on the Limerick Tunnel Public Private Partnership Scheme.
The Limerick Tunnel Scheme will incorporate a fourth crossing of the River Shannon in the environs of Limerick city. This crossing will involve an immersed tube tunnel, linking the townland of Coonagh, on the northern bank, with the townland of Bunlicky on the southern bank of the Shannon. In this aspect, it will be similar to the Jack Lynch Tunnel in Cork where immersed tube technology was used for the first time in Ireland. The scheme also involves the construction of a new dual carriageway and four grade separated junctions.
The scheme has been developed by Limerick County Council in association with Limerick City Council, Clare County Council and the National Roads Authority, through the Limerick County Council/NRA Project Team and joint venture consultants, RPS M. C. O'Sullivan & Co. Ltd. of Ireland and COWI of Denmark.
I know that three possible river crossing options were considered in the design and planning stages of this project: a high level bridge, a low-level opening bridge and a tunnel option. In public consultations on the scheme, 95% of respondents chose this tunnel option. For these and other reasons, the preference of the tunnel was brought forward to the Environmental Impact Statement stage as the preferred solution. The scheme was approved by An Bord Pleanála in July 2004 following five years of planning and design.
Benefits of the Limerick Tunnel Scheme/ Transport 21
The scheme represents another important step in the upgrading of the major inter-urban road corridors under the Government's investment programme - Transport 21. It is located on the N7 and forms part of the Major Interurban Corridor Limerick to Dublin, as indicated in the National Development Plan and also forms part of the Atlantic Corridor.
The development of the Atlantic Road Corridor from Letterkenny to Waterford has been a long-standing concept in the national roads upgrade programme and has now been re-enforced by Transport 21. Improvements like this, which aim to connect people and communities are at the core of our Transport 21 programme. When the programme is completed, Ireland will, for the first time, have a modern infrastructure to support economic and social life.
Similar benefits are being mirrored in other parts of the country. As every cent is invested, as every project opens, the Government's roads programme is making a difference in people's lives. With a growing population, demands on transport services in particular have grown. Fianna Fáil's priority in Government is to deliver policies that tackle these challenges and in doing so, make life easier for commuters thereby enhancing the quality of life for people.
Over the next 10 years, the Government will spend through Transport 21, an average of over €9.4 million per day on our transport infrastructure. The objective of Transport 21 is nothing less than a transformation of Ireland's transport network. This is necessary, and the huge levels of investment involved are justified, having regard to the critical importance of a well functioning transport infrastructure for the economic and social life of all parts of the country and our quality of life generally.
Construction of this second phase will result in many benefits.
The new road will complete the Southern Ring Road in accordance with the objective of the development plans for Limerick County, Clare County and Limerick City Council. It will improve access from the National Primary network to the greater Limerick area.
It will remove unnecessary through traffic from the local road network, thereby reducing congestion and improving environmental standards and safety. It will also provide welcome traffic relief for commuters and other road users as they go about their daily lives in residential areas in the city and county of Limerick.
This project will also provide traffic relief in the centre of Limerick city and allow Limerick's vibrant centre to develop in accordance with the Limerick Planning Land Use.
We are all too aware of the numbers of fatalities on our roads at this present time. We must do all we can to reduce death and injury resulting from road collisions. Coming in to a Bank Holiday this weekend, I would ask people to drive with care and wear a seat belt. All of us individually have a responsibility to drive carefully on our roads. This Southern Ring Road development will improve safety in Limerick city building the new road will help reduce traffic fatalities and help reduce the number of minor and serious accidents and resulting injuries.
As someone who travels around the country on a weekly basis, I am struck every time by the improvements in our towns and counties. Services are better, infrastructure is better, houses are better. The Limerick region is an increasingly popular place to live and work. You have the commercial hub that isLimerick city with all a vibrant centre has to offer - a shopping area, prominent University, plenty of cultural activity and of course the ancient walls and castles which are testament to its proud past. These assets combined then with access to the Shannon and the leisure pursuits which that waterway allows, make Limerick an attractive destination to live, work, do business and holiday. This new road and tunnel development will help sustain economic development, bring more tourism to this Shannon region, reduce transport costs and facilitate competitiveness in the transport of goods. Business and local enterprise will be able to go about their work in a more time effective manner.
Public Private Partnership Process
The Limerick Tunnel Scheme is one of 10 projects that make up the National Roads Public Private Partnership programme. Securing private finance is vitally important in order to accelerate the delivery of public capital initiatives.
The Limerick Tunnel Scheme is the fifth PPP contract to be awarded following on from the M50 West-Link Bridge, the M4/M6 Kilcock-Kinnegad motorway, the M1 Dundalk Western Bypass, the M8 Rathcormac/ Fermoy Bypass - all of which are now open to traffic - and the N25 Waterford City Bypass which is currently under construction.
The National Roads PPP programme is proving very successful in attracting private finance with almost €1 billion having been committed from the five PPP contracts awarded to date.
In conclusion, I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone involved with this project the local landowners for their co operation; Limerick County Council, Limerick City Council, Clare County Council, the NRA, DirectRoute Ltd and anybody else who had a role, big or small - in bringing the project to this important stage.
I wish DirectRoute Ltd and all those who will be working on the site well in bringing the project to a successful conclusion. Direct Route Ltd were also involved in the construction of the M8 Rathcormac/Fermoy Bypass which came in well ahead of schedule so that augurs well for this project.