Thursday, 19 January 2023
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
8. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the proposed N4 upgrade and bypass works for Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, and for the eastern Garvogue bridge scheme in Sligo town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2387/23]
I am delighted to have the opportunity to ask the Minister for Transport if he can provide an update on the proposed N4 upgrade bypass works for Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, and for the eastern Garavogue bridge scheme in Sligo town. These are two key pieces of infrastructure that would provide a much better connection with Sligo, the north west and Dublin and would provide similar connectivity to what Galway, Cork and Limerick have, reducing the current regional imbalance that has been well documented in recent reports.
These two schemes are distinct from each other, as one is a national road and the other is a local road. I will, therefore, update separately on each scheme.
The N4 is the national primary road between Dublin and Sligo and it connects to both the N5 to Westport and the N6 to Galway and Athlone, forming a strategic corridor to the north west. The proposed upgrade aims to address congestion issues in Carrick-on-Shannon and to improve a section of the N4 route between Drumharlow townland in County Roscommon, which is north of Carrick-on-Shannon, and Faulties townland, which is south of Aghamore in County Leitrim.
The scheme’s route option selection phase is nearing completion, with the preferred transport solution having been announced. This was displayed publicly in May and June last year. The preferred transport solution is available to view in detail at the scheme website. Following the completion of the route selection, the design and environmental evaluation phase will develop the project design further to allow for progression through the necessary statutory processes.
With regard to the eastern Garavogue bridge in Sligo my Department, together with the urban regeneration and development fund, has been providing grant funding for this scheme. The project will support urban regeneration in Sligo by improving community links, facilitating reduced journey times for walkers, cyclists and vehicles between the north and south sides of the River Garavogue on the eastern side of the city and improving access to facilities on opposite sides of the river.
The scheme was approved by An Bord Pleanála in 2009, but funding constraints as a result of the economic and financial crisis delayed detailed design and construction. The scheme is included in the national development plan and is now at the point where the detailed design needs to be completed and construction contract documents finalised. I am aware, however, that judicial review proceedings have been initiated regarding the scheme. I understand mediation may help us resolve some of those issues and I hope that will be successful in order that the project can be completed.
I thank the Minister. As he said, the eastern Garavogue bridge is part of the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and is a key to the development of Sligo in that it will link communities and facilitate development within Sligo town, not least the east ward. Much good work has been done in respect of traffic management on Hughes Bridge, which has alleviated traffic congestion, while the Collooney to Castlebaldwin road has been open for more than one year. When I drive from Castlebaldwin into Collooney, I get a great feeling because I see that we are progressing with modern transport systems. The Carrick-on-Shannon bypass is an issue for people travelling from Sligo. I acknowledge the Minister visits the region quite frequently. The main benefits for Sligo residents and the wider community will include much-reduced journey times for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles between the north and south sides of the River Garavogue in the eastern quadrant.
I look forward to visiting Sligo again. I have been trying to get out there. I am visiting Westmeath County Council tomorrow and I look forward to visiting the county councils in both Sligo and Leitrim to talk to them about the climate action plan we have to deliver together. I am looking forward to visiting Sligo in particular because one of the most interesting pathfinder projects in our Department involves transformative plans for the centre of Sligo town, connecting it to the university and the hospital.
On the wider issue of the roads programme, we have a limited budget. Even though there is €35 billion within the NDP, more than €70 billion worth of projects are in development, with more added every day. Moreover, we have to take account of inflation in the construction industry. We have to prioritise. I have been saying clearly that we should prioritise bypasses on the roads programme such that we will support our town centre first policy of compact development, and projects such as that in Carrick-on-Shannon tick that box. It would be transformative for the town, bringing life and housing back into the centre. We need to prioritise that sort of project in the roads programme.
Something is happening in Sligo and the wider north west, including Carrick-on-Shannon. Since Covid and Brexit, many people have moved there and, with the Atlantic Technological University, the eastern Garavogue bridge would connect the two areas of that river between the three colleges, the university, the hospital and the business park. It is vital. The bridge in Carrick-on-Shannon was built in 1846 and a new bypass has been selected. A new bridge would help Carrick-on-Shannon to breathe but also allow traffic to get from Dublin to the north west. On a map of Ireland, there are motorways from Dublin to Belfast and to Galway, but in between there are anomalies and we need to address them as quickly as possible.
The Minister would be very welcome to visit Sligo. He might even go to Strandhill and do a bit of surfing.
I might take the Deputy up on that offer. We can go surfing together in Strandhill.
The national planning framework gives us the way forward. We need better balanced regional development. There is excess development on the east coast, especially in the greater Dublin area, and we need areas such as Sligo, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick to grow as a counterbalance to that. The best way for Sligo to grow is for it to switch and promote sustainable mobility in order that there will be a high-quality local environment such that the town will work. I look forward to seeing what we can do to make that happen.
In towns such as Carrick-on-Shannon, there is a fundamental choice. These are incredible 19th century market towns, or older in many instances, and restoring them and bringing life back into their centres would be one way of tackling our housing crisis as well as helping us to meet our environmental targets. The best way of doing that will involve removing as much traffic as possible in order that life can be brought back in. The towns that do that, whether Carrick-on-Shannon or elsewhere, will thrive.