Reverend Fathers, Mayor of North Tipperary County Council, Cathaoirleach of Limerick County Council, my fellow colleagues in Dáil Eireann, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here today at the sod turning for the N7 Nenagh to Limerick road improvement scheme. This project is the biggest single scheme on the strategically important N7 Limerick-Dublin major interurban route corridor. Indeed it is one of the biggest individual road schemes ever undertaken in the State.
The N7 overall route is one of the key links between the southwest/mid west and Dublin and its full completion to high quality dual carriageway/ motorway standard is a vital ingredient in Transport 21, which is the Government's €34.4 billion investment programme over the next nine years in Ireland's transport infrastructure. Transport 21 is all about access - access gives people the freedom and choice to travel where and when they wish, to obtain the goods they want and the services they need. While a key component of Transport 21 is the development of our road network. It is also about the improvement of our rail infrastructure and I am looking forward later this afternoon, to visiting both Nenagh and Thurles train stations, which provide important public transport services.
But now back to the N7, and once complete, this new road from Nenagh to Limerick will help deliver many social, economic and environmental benefits to all who use it - benefits which will be felt both locally and nationally.
This new high quality dual carriageway will reduce journey times and give greater journey time certainty to all those travelling along it as well as adding extra capacity to cater for future growth in the region. On the N7 approaching Limerick, the current traffic volume is approximately 25,000 vehicles per day with levels of approximately 13,000 vehicles a day on the Nenagh stretch.
The new improved road when complete, will enhance people's quality of life, as much traffic will be removed from the local roads, reducing congestion and improving environmental standards and safety. As Transport Minister, road safety is of paramount importance to me and better quality roads make for easier, safer, road journeys in less time and in less built-up traffic. This scheme will also contribute towards the provision of a consistent standard of national road, which will help to reduce transport costs, and facilitate greater competitiveness in the transport of goods. Business will be able to do business in a more efficient way.
This scheme will be of particular benefit to the people of North Tipperary. It should facilitate significant improvement in economic growth and employment in the mid west region as a whole. People will soon be able to commute comfortably from the busy town of Nenagh and other towns and villages around us here, such as the Silvermines, Toomevara, Cloughjordan and Ballywilliam to Limerick city for work. This in turn should attract more people to live in the towns of Nenagh and Roscrea thus benefiting the local communities. This scheme will also go a long way towards helping to improve regional development in the areas of North Tipperary and Limerick.
This scheme will provide 38km of high quality dual carriageway/motorway, with a single carriageway link to the main road at Birdhill. It also incorporates the upgrading of 10km of Nenagh Bypass to dual carriageway standard. There will be four interchanges on this scheme at Newport, Birdhill, Carrigatogher and Thurles.
The new road will link the Limerick Southern Ring Road with the existing Nenagh Bypass, which will be upgraded as a part of this project.
Transport 21 & the National Roads Programme
The beneficial impact of the increased investment in the national road network is increasingly evident throughout the country. Exchequer investment in the network is at an all-time high - more than €1.5 billion for 2007 alone.
Work is currently underway on 23 other road projects totalling 349kms. Route by route the national road network is being transformed. The proof of this Government's commitment to delivery is there for everyone to see, in roads projects of a scale and quality we could not have dreamed of even ten years ago. We have a buoyant economy as evident in the Minister for Finance's Budget for 2007. We have an economy that is working and a country that is at work and as a result, many people on the move. There are now, for the first time ever, over two million people at work in this country. Transport 21 will improve our competitiveness, promote more balanced regional development by supporting our National Spatial Strategy, and improve the quality of life for all our citizens.
This year - the first year of Transport 21 - has been in every way a record year for Ireland's national roads. The Government has hit the ground running in the implementation of the roads element of Transport 21. Earlier this week on Tuesday the dual carriageway running 19 km from Kinnegad to Tyrrellspass was opened. Tomorrow I will be on the Cork - Waterford border opening the N25 Kinsalebeg realignment. On 21 December the Ennis Bypass will open. The Government is fully committed to maintaining investment in transport infrastructure and services at a high level and to fully implementing the ambitious national road upgrade programme provided for in Transport 21. Transport 21 provides for a total investment of more than €16 billion over the period 2007-2015. This investment will maintain the pace and momentum of the programme built up over the last number of years.
Not only is the national road network being transformed but so is the way in which road projects are being delivered. Most projects are now being delivered on time and in budget. This includes twelve of the fourteen schemes opened so far this year. Indeed many schemes are now being delivered ahead of time e.g. N8 Rathcormac-Fermoy Bypass (8 months), N21 Kinsale Road Interchange (6 months) and the M1 Dundalk Western Bypass (5 months). Let us hope the N7 Nenagh-Limerick joins this growing list.
Just before I conclude I would like to come back to the important issue of road safety. As we approach Christmas and a time when traditionally people are out and about more enjoying themselves, I would encourage all road users not to drink and drive. If you want to have a drink, please leave the car keys at home. Have respect for your own life and the lives of other road users and make alternative arrangements. I would also ask you not to speed and to always wear a seat belt when travelling in a car. We must all play our part together in stopping the carnage on our roads.
In conclusion, I would like to take the opportunity to warmly thank all involved with this N7 Nenagh-Limerick project including:
Limerick County Council
North Tipperary County Council
The National Roads Authority
The land owners and others who have cooperated in getting the project to this stage
Bothair Hibernian who have been successful in securing the contract and wish them and their workforce well in their efforts to complete the project on time and within budget
I wish you and all those who will be working on the site well in bringing the project to a successful conclusion.