Saturday 17 August 2019

State's longest bridge will end the Barrow Valley traffic woes

A bridge-building team is helping bring a beautiful solution to the New Ross congestion nightmare, writes Alan O'Keeffe

SPECTACLE: Mary Bowe at the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge. Photo: Patrick Browne
SPECTACLE: Mary Bowe at the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge. Photo: Patrick Browne

Alan O'Keeffe

It is big enough to carry a dual carriageway for almost a kilometre across the Barrow Valley and was built with 75,000 tons of high-strength concrete reinforced with 7,000 tons of steel. The steel cables consist of 500km of thick strands of steel wire and it reputedly contains as much metal as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Understandably, the sheer scale of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge prompted fears it would be a blot on the scenic landscape. But those fears proved unfounded with growing numbers of people expressing approval as the spectacular bridge nears completion as part of the N25 New Ross bypass.

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"It is the most complex structure ever built in Ireland and also the longest bridge in the country," said chartered civil engineer Mary Bowe.

She is administering the construction contract on behalf of state body, Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

The 887m-long 'Extrados' bridge has two main spans of 230 metres each which are the longest spans of their type in the world.

It will carry traffic 36m above the surface of the river Barrow and is high enough for cargo ships to pass underneath.

"It's an elegant structure," she said.

The new bridge is part of a 15km bypass which will end congestion in the Co Wexford town and will significantly cut travel times on the N25 between Cork City and Rosslare Europort. The project has a price-tag of €230m.

The BAM Iridium consortium signed the contract in January 2016. The scheme is being delivered as a Public Private Partnership (PPP).

The main designer for the PPP company is Arup.

The Spanish firm Carlos Fernandez Casado (CFC) is the bridge designer. Bam Ireland is in a joint venture with Spanish firm Dragados in building the bridge and bypass.

One of Bowe's roles for Transport Infrastructure Ireland is to guide and direct technical advisors who oversee design and construction activities. The technical advisors are Mott MacDonald Ireland.

While there were some delays due to technical challenges with the bridge construction, it is now hoped the new bypass route will open later this year to finally solve the problem of one of the most notorious bottlenecks in the South East.

On a bad day, motorists travelling through New Ross can end up queuing to cross the existing bridge in the town.

Traffic jams result in tailbacks up to 3km long when drivers can suffer delays of more than 40 minutes.

The new bridge, five kilometres downstream from New Ross, links an area of high ground east of Glenmore, Co Kilkenny, known as Pink Rock, with Stokestown on the Co Wexford side of the river.

The bypass route travels through the Co Wexford countryside and links the N25 to the N30 route to Enniscorthy at Corcoran's Cross.

The view of the landscape from the deck of the new bridge is breathtaking.

Standing on the bridge deck, high above the flood plain, Bowe told the Sunday Independent she welcomed the opportunity to work on an iconic structure within view of her childhood home that will ease congestion in her own hometown.

She recalled she was one of only four female students in her engineering course in university. She graduated from UCD with first class honours in 1993.

She said engineering offers a wide variety of career options, and she would encourage more schoolgirls to choose STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Mary Bowe regularly meets Spanish engineer Lucia Blanco who leads the bridge design team.

Civil engineer Sean Dobbs is the project liaison officer on behalf of both Kilkenny and Wexford Co Councils. He said a lot of visiting professionals were taken aback by how much better the bridge looked in reality, compared to the computer-generated images at the planning stages.

"Now that the bridge has really taken shape, it has captured the imagination of local people who are very proud of it," he said.

Wexford Co Council led the compulsory purchase order process for the land along the route and he acknowledged it was a painful process for some farmers to have their family farms split up.

There was a strong movement to honour John F Kennedy, whose ancestral homestead at Dunganstown is within sight of the bridge. The Kennedy family later declared that all members of the clan would be honoured if the bridge was named after JFK's mother which resulted in the official name becoming the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge.

It will be free of tolls.

Sunday Independent

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