Reverend Fathers; Cllr William Ireland, Cathaoirleach, Kilkenny County Council and representatives from Kilkenny County Council; Waterford City Council and Waterford County Council; my fellow colleagues from both the Dáil and Seanad who are here from Waterford and Kilkenny; Mr Fred Barry, Chief Executive, National Roads Authority; ladies and gentlemen:
It gives me great pleasure to be here this afternoon at yet another sod turning event which demonstrates the commitment to transform our national road network as mandated in the National Development Plan and Transport 21.
As we turn the sod to begin construction on this latest piece of road infrastructure 24kms of road, built to motorway standard, serving Waterford, Kilkenny and indeed all of the South East, it is a good moment to reflect on what we are achieving with all of this construction work and what it will mean particularly for the future of the South East.
When this entire 110km route is completed in 2010, it will link Dublin to Waterford. The N9 will stretch from its junction with the N7 at Kilcullen in County Kildare down to the Waterford City Bypass. At its southern end it will connect into the N25 to Waterford, Rosslare and Cork. At its northern end, the N9 will connect into the N7 for Dublin, Limerick, Portlaoise, Belfast and elsewhere. In other words, what we are beginning today with this sod turning on the Knocktopher to Waterford section, which is Phase 2 of the overall project, is another important step on the road to delivering a true network of interconnecting routes.
Under Transport 21, the Government's investment programme for transport, (2006-2015), €1.53 billion of funding is being provided to the National Roads Authority for the National Roads programme in 2007 the largest single annual investment in national roads. 215km of new roads will commence this year and a further 343km will continue in construction. Six hundred and seventy three projects are being funded under this year's allocation. Work will be completed by the NRA on nine schemes this year and work will start on seven others and in fact in County Clare, we opened the first of the year's completed projects the Ennis Bypass on the 26 January last. 2006, the first year of Transport 21, was in every way a record year for Ireland's National Roads programme. Fourteen major road projects were completed and opened to traffic and a dozen more started construction - more than three times the number of starts than in the previous year.
This Government is committed to the creation of a road network that will promote regional and national competitiveness. It is also crucial to Ireland's future economic competitiveness. It is critical that enterprises are able to efficiently move goods both internally and to and from external markets. 98.3% of internal merchandise trade is carried on the road network and this underlines the need for a world-class roads system, especially between the major urban centres.
Allowing business to do business more efficiently is one major benefit in investing in our national roads but there are other great benefits. Increased investment will:
deliver a safer road network;
deliver a more reliable and predictable journey time between the towns and cities of Ireland North and South;
deliver a higher quality of life to the people who live in the bypassed towns and villages along the route.
Today's sod turning sees work commence on 24kms of road that will run from Knocktopher in County Kilkenny to the N25 Waterford City Bypass. This road, which will be built to motorway standard, is due to be completed in 2009.
While this work is going on, another piece of the jigsaw is well underway. The N9 Carlow bypass, which is Phase 1, commenced last year and is due for completion by 2008. Later this year the contract for the Kilcullen to Carlow section, Phase 3, will be awarded and construction will commence in 2008. Finally the section to link this end of the route with the Carlow Bypass will commence in 2008. It will be the final link in the chain, and is expected to be completed by 2010.
When this entire road is completed, towns such as Thomastown, Gowran, Paulstown, Stoneyford, Knocktopher, Ballyhale, and Mullinavat will enjoy the benefits of a decrease in through traffic in their towns.
This route will facilitate regional development as set out in the Government's National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020. As you are aware, the city of Waterford has been identified as a gateway, supported by Kilkenny and Wexford as hubs. The three together, form a national strategic 'growth triangle'. It is envisaged that Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford will drive regional growth by providing a large and skilled population base now and in years to come.
The completed route will be linked to the N25 Waterford City Bypass - it was inApril last year, that I turned the sod on the Waterford City bypass (which will also feature a second bridge crossing of the River Suir) - thus connecting up with the Euroroute (E30), which is the main traffic artery between Rosslare harbour and Cork. This will in turn increase the competitiveness of the South Eastern region by reducing travel times and transport costs.
As Transport Minister, road safety is extremely important to me and the provision of better quality roads make for safer road journeys in less built-up traffic. The high quality dual carriageways and motorways we have been building in this country have been proven to be seven times safer than the roads they are replacing. By opening over 100km of new roads by the National Roads Authority in 2007, we are adding significantly to the safety of our national road network. This of course does not reduce the responsibility on all of us as individuals to drive carefully, to respect other road users including cyclists and pedestrians, to observe speed limits and other regulations and never to drink and drive.
In conclusion, I would like to take the opportunity to warmly thank all involved with this project including
Kilkenny County Council
National Roads Authority
the land owners and others who have cooperated in getting the project to this stage
Engineers N9/N10 Kilkenny Consult
Contractors - Ascon Ltd and wish them and their workforce well in their efforts to complete the project on time and within budget.
I wish you and those who will be working on the site well in bringing the project to a successful conclusion.
Thank you very much.