Thursday, 24 June 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
As the Minister of State is aware, I come from a constituency that has a particular strategic location in the context of transport routes. We have the N24 that, despite being in very poor condition, links the east coast with Limerick and has a link to the M8. We have a rail line with a similar route, that also links with Cork, Limerick and the capital. Unfortunately, the potential offered by these routes has been abandoned and ignored. The Minister of State will be only too aware that the impact of this abandonment of regional infrastructure on communities in the region has been immense. The Minister of State will have heard on numerous occasions, and I make no apology for pressing the issue with him once again, about the impact this had on communities such as Tipperary town.
In this day and age it is baffling to see a road with the strategic importance of the N24 not being used to its full potential. It is still running through the centre of Tipperary town bringing traffic to a halt and limiting the ability of people and businesses to go about their duties and hampering transport between Limerick and Waterford. This discussion is timely, as from tomorrow option corridors regarding the N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction project will go live, while the constraints element of the N24 Cahir to Waterford project recently ended. While this is some progress, I appeal to the Minister of State to see the sense in making full use of the potential of the N24. It would be a cheaper alternative to the M20 and M25 motorways.
As the Minister of State is aware, the Cork Limerick Alliance Group has advocated the development of a motorway from Limerick to Waterford with a link to the M8 junction at Cahir to Cork. This would make obvious sense to link east to west and Limerick to Cork and would improve connectivity to Galway, not to mention the cost savings involved. The proposal would use the existing infrastructure of the N24 and the underused M8 motorway, incorporate the Limerick Junction to Cahir proposal and would be linked by the Tipperary town bypass.
On numerous occasions, the Minister of State has said to me that if every infrastructure proposal was acted upon there would be no money left for anything else. This is why I ask him to give serious consideration to the proposals to utilise the upgrade link between Limerick and Cahir and make full use of the existing infrastructure, namely, the N24 and the M8. It is another reason the speedy approval of a bypass for Tipperary town makes sense, not just for the people living and working in the town but also in terms of regional connectivity and how the bypass would link together the projects I am speaking about. Tipperary, Waterford and Kilkenny county councils have all backed the development of the N24 into a motorway.
Figures compiled by the Cork Limerick Alliance Group have shown the alternative ways to connect Waterford, Limerick and Cork by the M20 and M25 motorways would cost well over €5 billion, while to do the same with the M24 would cost in the region of €3.2 billion. To get from Limerick to Cork by the M24 route would be only nine minutes longer than going via the proposed M20. It would also achieve far more for the Project Ireland 2040 vision. It would connect key cities and ports and make for a more efficient road system. Does the Minister of State not see that this makes sense? I appeal to him to give real consideration to it. Above all, I want to hammer home the case for the bypass of Tipperary town to be given priority when consideration is given to the phases of the Limerick Junction to Cahir route.
I welcome this question. I understand the significance and I acknowledge the importance of these routes to the Deputy's county and to the public he represents. These routes are under consideration and have not been finalised, and this is the right time to raise these concerns.
Once funding arrangements have been put in place through the Department of Transport under the Roads Act 1993-2015, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities. Overall, TII is responsible for the delivery of the national roads programme in accordance with Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, NDP. In this context, TII provides the Department with regular updates on its delivery of the national roads programme.
Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the NDP was developed to underpin the successful implementation of the national planning framework, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework for the national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. The focus of TII's activities is, accordingly, being directed towards the development of the major national road improvement schemes that are included in the NDP along with the maintenance of the existing national road network.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to bring forward the review of the NDP from 2022 and to use the review to set out an updated NDP for the period out to 2030. The review of the NDP will be aligned with the NPF and Project Ireland 2040 and work is under way within the Department, in conjunction with TII, to contribute to this review. I will take this opportunity to highlight that all projects, including those listed in the NDP or any revision to the NDP, require statutory approval and compliance with the public spending code.
The N24 Limerick to Waterford road improvement project is divided into two sections. These are the N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction and the N24 Waterford to Cahir. The N24 is a national primary road connecting Limerick to Waterford, running through Tipperary town, Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel. The proposed N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction project would consist of approximately 35 km of road improvement works between Cahir in Tipperary and Limerick Junction. The study area associated with the proposed project would include bypasses of Tipperary town and Bansha. The proposed N24 Waterford to Cahir project would consist of approximately 60 km of road improvement works.
These projects would address a core priority under the NPF, to enhance and upgrade accessibility between urban centres of population and their regions, namely, Limerick and Waterford city. In addition, the proposed projects would lead to an improvement in efficiency of the N24 route, which could have positive economic and social benefits for Tipperary, stimulating employment, social inclusion and tourism in the area. The route also forms part of the strategic link between Shannon Foynes Port via the N69 and the ports of Waterford and Rosslare Europort via the N25.
Through the provision of more reliable and safer journeys, both projects would aim to enhance regional accessibility and improve connectivity between Limerick and Waterford. The N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction project would also provide the opportunity to provide better connectivity with public transport through direct access to the train stations in Cahir and Limerick Junction, which would encourage the use of public transport in the area. Improved journey time certainty would act as an enabler to economic growth and urban environment improvements would have positive social benefits for local residents.
In addition, the proposed N24 Waterford to Cahir project would improve the quality of life of commuters and local residents, through improved journey times and the provision of new cycling and walking facilities. It is envisaged that the N24 would connect to the Kilkenny greenway, which would run from New Ross to Waterford City. This would encourage tourism in the region and promote physical activity.
On the proposed N24 Cahir to Limerick project, technical advisors were appointed by Tipperary County Council, in association with Limerick City and County Council, and they are undertaking early planning and design work. A public consultation on the project's constraints took place in the first quarter of 2021 informing the options selection stage, with the short-listed transport corridors expected to be unveiled in mid-2021. Tipperary County Council has advised TII that the scheme will be going to public consultation on 25 June for a six-week period ending on 6 August, 2021.
On the proposed N24 Waterford to Cahir project, Kilkenny County Council has appointed Arup as technical advisers. The activities for phase 1, concept and feasibility, are complete, while phase 2, the route options selection, has commenced and a virtual public consultation on constraints took place from 4 May 2021 until 1 June 2021. It is expected to have the short-listed transport corridors identified in late 2021 and the preferred route identified in the third quarter of 2022.
The N20 is a national primary road connecting the cities of Cork and Limerick. As a critical route in the region, the proposed project consists of the replacement of 80 km of the existing roadway. The N20 is a strategically important route and the proposed project aims to enhance regional accessibility by improving the network connecting the cities of Cork and Limerick, allowing for balanced regional growth. The NDP sets out that the N20-M20 Cork to Limerick project would provide better connectivity between Ireland's second and third largest cities, by improving the quality of the transport network, which will address safety issues associated with the existing N20 route and provide for safer and more efficient journey times. Increased capacity and more reliable journey times provided by the project would provide express intercity bus services the opportunity to use the network, which would promote road-based public transport in the region and lead to positive environmental impacts.
I understand there will be concerns among some who would favour the M20 route but many would not. The M20 plans as they are would create a bottleneck in Blackpool for example. There is also the fact the M24 route would adhere to the route now known as the N24 whereas the M20 would not, and would have to run off-line into greenfield sites. Surely the Government would recognise this is the least attractive option in terms of the ecological impact.
There are towns that will need their own bypasses but I know the Minister of State has been an advocate of smaller bypasses to free up towns, and the cost savings involved in the alternative to the M20 would resolve the costs. The Minister of State must also take rail into account. The Limerick Junction to Waterford service suits no one. The Ballybrophy line has untapped potential to link vast swathes of the country if properly used. The Minister of State knows that money is one thing but using existing infrastructure in a manner that services local communities can save a lot of financial headaches.
Communities living along the N24, particularly Tipperary town, must have real and immediate attention when it comes to the traffic chaos they face every day. It is 40 years since Tipperary town was first promised a bypass and it has been repeatedly pushed back. It is totally unfair on such a town that it has so much heavy traffic. The Minister of State knows what it is like. He is aware of how the town has been done a huge disservice through a malfunctioning N24 and poorly utilised railway service. I urge the Minister of State to do whatever he can within his capabilities to prioritise the Tipperary town bypass and free the town from the stranglehold of the N24. Tomorrow, there will be a meeting on the preferred routes and later in the year the actual route will be selected. There is still no guarantee it will go into the national transport plan.
The first priority is to make sure that is part of the national transport plan. There is no point in choosing a route and then saying in 40 years' time that it was never put on the national plan. I urge the Minister of State and Government to put the N24 at the top of their list. It is one of the areas between Limerick and Waterford that is a bottleneck.
I thank the Deputy. He will know the area better than I do. I take his point that there is a serious bottleneck and that Tipperary town needs a bypass. A bypass can, of course, be transformative. I know the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is keen to provide towns with that relief so that they do not have trucks and cars trundling through them and can instead become more vibrant. The Deputy is right to pursue that.
I also take the Deputy's points about going into greenfield areas. That is something to watch. The national development plan is under review at the moment. The review will be published this year. The Deputy said he wants to make sure that the N24 is included. The main thing is that nothing has been decided yet. It is not a competition between the M20 and the N24. Both of those routes are under consultation at the moment. The public, the Deputy and his constituents will be listened to. The environmental and traffic congestion problems in Tipperary town have to be acknowledged and addressed. I thank the Deputy for bringing this matter to the House.