€660m tunnel to take 27,000 cars off streets
MOTORISTS journeyed under the River Shannon for the first time yesterday when the new €660m Limerick tunnel finally opened to traffic.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen officially opened the tunnel, which is expected to take up to 27,000 vehicles per day off the streets of Limerick city. This could increase to 40,000.
The multimillion-euro project, which opened ahead of schedule, is part of the Southern Ring Road Phase 2 development, connecting the M7 Dublin and M20 Cork roads with the N18 to Galway and Shannon Airport.
The tunnel runs for 900 metres, 675m of which is under the Shannon, and the road network on either side includes 11 new access bridges, six underpasses and four interchanges.
Toll charges range from €1.80 for cars to €5.70 for bigger classes of vehicles.
Speaking at the official opening yesterday, the Taoiseach described the tunnel as an "historic crossing" that would be vitally important to the people of the mid-west region.
Mr Cowen said the tunnel was part of a much wider network of world-class infrastructure that was being delivered across the country, linking major towns and cities.
He said the final section of the N9 Dublin to Waterford Road was due for completion by the end of the autumn, while the final sections of the N7 to Limerick would follow shortly afterwards.
"As the world economy improves, it is important to remember all the positive things happening in our country. More than €1.4bn will be spent this year on our national, regional and local road infrastructure," Mr Cowen said.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said the Limerick Tunnel was the biggest infrastructural project in the mid-west and one of the biggest in Ireland this year.
"It will provide a fourth crossing of the river Shannon in Limerick and improve access times for commuters to the city, as well as to Shannon Airport, Galway, Cork, Kerry and Dublin," he said.
"By the end of 2010, all our major cities, together with towns and villages between them, will be accessible via a world-class road network.
"I wish a safe journey to everyone travelling on this motorway and I ask all who drive on it to behave courteously to other road users," he added.
The mayor of Limerick, Maria Byrne, said the opening of the tunnel was a "good news day" for the city.
Cllr Richard Butler, cathaoirleach of Limerick County Council, said the world-class infrastructural project was the realisation of a vision first conceived in the early 1970s.
"This project is the most significant infrastructural projected completed in the mid-west region since the Shannon scheme and I expect its impact on the region will in time be seen to match that of the Shannon scheme," said Cllr Butler.
Among the guests at yesterday's opening ceremony was 95-year-old Patrick Skehan from Bridgetown in Co Clare, who also attended the officially opening of the Shannon scheme at Parteen Weir in 1929.