DUBLIN commuters can heave a sigh of relief -- the four-year €1bn upgrade of the M50 is almost complete.
This morning, three lanes of motorway will be opened from Sandyford to the junction of the M1/Dublin Airport, which will allow motorists to cruise at 100kmh along 22km of high-spec road.
The massive upgrading project is now in its final stages, the National Roads Authority (NRA) said yesterday, with most of the mainline carriageway now fully completed.
Upgrading for five interchanges -- at Ballymun, Ashbourne/Finglas, M3 Blanchardstown, N81 Tallaght and Scholarstown/Firhouse -- will be finished by the end of the year.
NRA spokesman Sean O'Neill thanked motorists for their patience during the project, saying that some construction works posed unique and difficult challenges.
"The upgrading of the Red Cow was referred to as doing open heart surgery on someone going to work," he said.
"You had to take 100,000 cars coming from north, south, east and west and rebuild the junction underneath their wheels, and separating the Luas from traffic and making the junction freeflow.
"A big challenge was also removing everything underground. There was telecommunications networks, sewers and drains and the entire lot had to be removed and relocated.
"The removal of the West Link toll plaza was enormous because it unclogged that section of the M50. But the effect was that people arrived at the interchanges quicker, which then clogged up because they weren't ready.
"You had existing infrastructure which had to be replaced while people were on it. Drivers were very patient but, at times, small mistakes had huge consequences. For example, if contractors didn't have all equipment off site at particular times there would be chaos."
The new third lane will open at 6am and runs in both directions between Junction 10 (Ballymount) and Junction 14 (Sandyford).
It comes a week after the opening of a third lane plus an auxiliary fourth lane connecting junctions on the M50 Northern Section in both directions between Junction 3 (M1/Airport) and Junction 6 (M3/Blanchardstown).
In total, today's opening, combined with the previous week equals 22km of additional motorway, added to the M50 mainline which will result in improved traffic flow.
"We are pleased with the progress of work along the M50 mainline," NRA chief executive Fred Barry said. "There are still upgrade works to be completed at some of the junctions, but this is major step in the right direction. The M50 remains on schedule for full completion by the end of 2010."
Much of the remaining work will be completed by the middle of next year.