Driving towards the last piece of €8bn road jigsaw
THE 'big five' motorways from Dublin will be finished by the end of November, slashing journey times and reducing the number of deaths by as many as 25 each year.
The final pieces of the road jigsaw -- two stretches of the M7 motorway to Limerick -- will both be completed by then, ending the 10-year investment programme that has cost €8bn.
The last 40km stretch of the toll-free €1.2bn non-stop motorway from Dublin to Waterford opened yesterday, cutting the journey time to just 90 minutes.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) predicts that 25 deaths and 875 injuries will be avoided every year when the motorways are completed.
The direct benefits are calculated at €24bn -- in fuel costs, deliveries, and local infrastructure.
Unlike the other motorways there are no plans to bring in tolls on the new Waterford motorway.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, who officially opened the route in Kilkenny, described how areas such as Paulstown, Gowran and Thomastown were being "given back to the people".
And he said up to €40bn would be borrowed by the Government to spend on other upcoming infrastructure projects.
Mr Dempsey, who claimed to have cheered for the Cats in Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final, joked that at least they got the "weather right" for yesterday's event.
He said tolls would not be introduced on the M9 because "it wasn't commercially viable".
The massive infrastructure project, which came in on time and in budget, would help to "restore the country, Mr Dempsey said.
He also defended the cost of the road.
"This region needed a significant investment," he said.
"This was part of that investment; it will bring returns to the region, not just the road itself but through economic activity and so on."
Mr Dempsey said that a number of rest areas would be constructed along the motorway shortly.
"I've asked the NRA to have a look at ways and means of doing that that's not going to cost the taxpayer. . . it's going to be done on a commercial basis. The NRA will come back to me with a report on that."
Angela McGarry, of Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, said she hoped the opening of the motorway would ease the town's traffic problems.
Ms McGarry, whose beauty therapy business is based on the town's Market Street, said she doesn't rely on passing trade but other shops that do will suffer.
"Hopefully, with the town being quieter, I'll have more local people coming into me. It'll make a big difference to our main street."
The traditional Dublin to Waterford route -- particularly the stretch between Carlow and Kilkenny -- has seen many road deaths over the years.
Last month, 17-year-old Shane Breen was killed in a horrific smash on the N9 near Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.
One week later, Claire Nolan (26), of Kilkenny, died on the N9 near Paulstown, Co Kilkenny.
The Carlow bypass opened in May 2008, followed by the Suir Bridge and the Waterford city bypass in October 2009; the Kicullen to Carlow motorway in December 2009; and the Knocktopher to Waterford city bypass in June.