Tuesday, 22 September 2009
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue and appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works, has come to respond.
As the Minister of State will be aware, it is proposed to close the Castleknock gate of the Phoenix Park for six weeks starting next week. My constituency has only three routes into the city centre - the N3, which is currently being dug up for the M50 upgrade, Chapelizod and the Phoenix Park. It would appear that for at least the next six weeks the Castleknock gate of the Phoenix Park will be closed, essentially closing off two of the three routes into the city centre. It may not be of much concern to Members opposite that I will not be able to join them for approximately six weeks but this will also apply to the Minister for Finance who may find he has great difficulty coming to the House. The closure of this route will cause significant traffic chaos around the Castleknock area as people try to divert to other routes, including Blackhorse Avenue, Chapelizod, etc.
Why was there no consultation with local Deputies or councillors? The first knowledge we had of this was, in typical OPW fashion, signs put up on the gates informing us that it would be closed for six weeks. This has happened on a few occasions. It happened in regard to proposals to introduce a one-way system at Ashtown gate and Cabra gate which had to be abandoned because the OPW failed to consult people at the time.
Why could this work not have been done during the summer when there was relatively little traffic? It will now be done in October which is the peak traffic period in Dublin. Can this be deferred until next year? It is only for the construction of a roundabout. A temporary roundabout has been in place for the best part of two years which works well. Is it not possible to defer these works until next summer?
What arrangements will be made to organise traffic in the area during the period of the works, in particular at Farmleigh? Will White's gate be opened for six weeks? If not, what other arrangements will be made to ensure we are not all trapped in our homes for the next six weeks?
Martin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Varadkar for raising this issue and I appreciate the inconvenience such works can cause to those who may live in their vicinity.
The closure of Castleknock Gate from Monday, 28 September for a maximum of nine weeks is necessitated by essential works that are required to be carried out at the Mountjoy Cross junction in the Phoenix Park. The works will require the junction to be cordoned off. It will not, therefore, be possible for vehicular traffic to cross it. There will be no disruption to people on foot or on bicycles who will be able to use the Castleknock Gate as usual.
The Mountjoy Cross junction had one of the highest accident rates in Dublin city for several years. To alleviate the dangers at the junction, a temporary roundabout was installed in 2007. This proved to be an immediate success by reducing the number of accidents considerably. However, with the increased volume of traffic using this junction, it remains dangerous. It is now proposed to replace the current temporary roundabout with a permanent structure, with the primary focus for carrying out this work being the safety of all users who use this junction, as well as considerably improving the appearance of Chesterfield Avenue at this high profile location.
The Mountjoy Cross junction has been flooded on several occasions resulting in the closure of the junction, for four days on the last occasion. Major remedial works on the drainage system at Mountjoy also need to be carried out and are being included as part of this contract to ensure minimum disruption to users of the park.
In addition to the above major construction projects, the Office of Public Works has ensured a further two projects that would also have necessitated the closure of the Castleknock Gate will be carried out while the main construction work is taking place. These are the Bord Gáis replacement of damaged pipes along Chesterfield Avenue and through the Castleknock Gate. This is necessary on safety grounds as the current pipe network is antiquated and suffering from major leaks of gas. There will also be repairs to the Castleknock Gate as a result of damage caused by a large truck.
A traffic management plan covering the period of the works has been drawn up in consultation with An Garda Síochána at the highest level and Fingal County Council. Several options were considered including night-time working and one-way, stop-go options. These were rejected on grounds of cost, that they would prolong the works into the Operation Freeflow period and the inevitable noise and inconvenience to residents of night-time working.
The plan adopted allows for the re-opening of certain closed roads in the Park to vehicular traffic, the creation of one-way traffic movement inward only at the Ashtown Gate and outward only at the Cabra Gate. The Odd Lamp Road will be re-opened to take traffic in both directions from the Phoenix Monument towards the Back Road. The Furze Road will be re-opened to take traffic to and from the main road towards the Knockmaroon Gate and the Ordnance Survey Road. Entrance to Farmleigh and the Ordnance Survey complex will be from the Ordnance Survey Road.
The advice to the Office of Public Works is that these temporary measures provide the best prospect of balancing the need to get the works completed in a timely and cost effective manner and the interests of the motorist. Extensive signage is already in place throughout the park to alert users to the new arrangements. The plans will also be widely advertised on AA Roadwatch, on the Office of Public Works, Phoenix Park and Garda websites. Extra gardaí will be on duty to help direct traffic on the first days of the closure, as well as the contractor's own staff. A study has been carried out which indicates that commuters using the alternative arrangements put in place will suffer delays of no more than 40 minutes during the first day of the gate closure and no more than 20 minutes thereafter.
The proposed roundabout was one element of a much larger scheme for the entire Chesterfield Avenue. The scheme was submitted for planning permission earlier this year, but was rejected in August on foot of an objection by An Taisce for plans for a bus lane in the park. Once the planning situation had been clarified, there was a narrow window of opportunity to complete the roundabout works, which are permitted under planning laws, before Garda restrictions on roadworks come into effect at the end of November as part of Operation Freeflow. That is why the works were not carried out during the summer.
The situation will be monitored closely over the period of the contract. Any opportunity that presents itself to expedite the works will be taken. While we regret any inconvenience caused to the public, we consider these works are of the highest priority for improving the safety of both motorists, pedestrians and cyclists at the Mountjoy Junction, as well as addressing the other long-term problems at this location. When the works are completed, the public welfare will have been improved.