THE Atlantic Corridor roads plan, linking key cities in the west and south, is to be brought forward by three years.
The 350-mile route will include a tunnel under the River Shannon in Limerick, at least five major bypasses and the upgrading of existing roads to dual carriageway status.
The aim is to link the gateway cities in the National Spatial Strategy - Letterkenny, Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford - to drive economic growth in the regions.
Transport Minister Martin Cullen yesterday confirmed the Government is now accelerating the funding for the project to allow construction to commence on the N18 Ennis to Galway route.
Construction will start early next year - three years ahead of when originally planned.
Funding of ?350m was being brought forward to facilitate the work.
He denied the money was being taken away from any other project. The NRA had reported the roads programme was going so well that up to ?500m could be brought forward to advance such projects.
"The consequence of this is that the overall Atlantic Road Corridor will be completed significantly ahead of the original schedule," Mr Cullen promised.
Speaking in Galway, Mr Cullen also revealed that the acceleration of funding for the massive project would lead to the E330m Galway City Outer Bypass being constructed earlier than planned.
Construction work on the Galway project - aimed at freeing up the congested streets of the western capital - will begin in 2009 and is expected to be completed within three years.
"This all means that next year about 100km of roads will be under construction in the region around Galway, involving expenditure of around ?1.5bn," Mr Cullen said.
The minister also staunchly defended the government decision to press ahead with the Western Rail Corridor, linking Ennis with Sligo, which has been criticised because of its estimated cost.
"The Western Rail Corridor is a project that I am very proud of. I am the first minister to re-build a rail network. . . I don't agree that it is a waste of taxpayers' money."