independent

Saturday 21 September 2019

NEWSSPECIAL This year finally saw the opening of the new road through the Glen of the Downs. Gavin McGuire reports on the difference it has made.

IT MAY HAVE cost almost twice as much as expected and taken far longer than even the most pessimistic projections, but all seems to have been forgiven since the Kilmacanogue to Glen of the Downs dual carriageway opened in late October. Officially the most delayed and over-budget road scheme in Ireland, the new road opened to the public without much aplomb on the morning of Octo

All the waiting was worth it in the end

IT MAY HAVE cost almost twice as much as expected and taken far longer than even the most pessimistic projections, but all seems to have been forgiven since the Kilmacanogue to Glen of the Downs dual carriageway opened in late October.

Officially the most delayed and over-budget road scheme in Ireland, the new road opened to the public without much aplomb on the morning of October 23 last, and 30,000 motorists who have been navigating the roadworks on a daily basis for the last three years breathed a collective sigh of relief.

And seemingly the only bone of contention for the motoring public is the retention of a restrictive (but mostly ignored) 40 m.p.h. speed limit, which remains in place along the route and which is expected to be in situ until ancillary works are completed in the coming months.

Prior to the commencement of the improvement works in 2000, the members of Wicklow County Council voted to introduce a speed limit of 40 m.p.h. along the route of the roadworks for the duration of the scheme.

In order to restore the national speed limit, the council will have to go through the same process again.

'It is proposed to leave the current 40 m.p.h limit in place, for road safety reasons, until any outstanding works have been completed. These include completion of Foxboro Lane, Red Lane and the entrance to the Glenview,' a spokesperson for Wicklow County Council explained.

Any change to speed limits on the National Road network must be approved by the National Roads Authority, as well as going through the by-law process.

It could hardly be judged an understatement to say that the N11 road improvement scheme had more than its fair share of setbacks over the years.

Indeed, the plan to upgrade the N11 was first mooted in the 1980s and included a stretch through the picturesque Glen of the Downs, one of the country's last natural oak woods.

After initial objections from the Heritage Service, Dœchas, the scheme's engineers were forced to rethink their plans, which were subsequently agreed upon by Dœchas.

'Eco Warriors'

Later in 1997, it emerged that 300 trees would still have to be felled to make way for the upgraded road and a group of 'eco-warriors' took up residence in the trees, bringing work to a standstill. It took two years of legal wrangling and a Supreme Court ruling before they eventually decamped.

Work by civil engineering firm Ascon finally got under way in June 2000, and was due to take two and a half years and cost just under ?50 million.

During the following three years, a staggering 20,000 pieces of correspondence were sent between the contractor and Wicklow County Council - most of which concerned unforeseen problems and complications.

In addition, many substantial and therefore costly aspects of the project seemed unanticipated.

These unforeseen difficulties included the replacement of a water mains and the innovative 'soil nailing' process which was employed in the creation of a retaining wall structure.

The delays were not helped by the fact that most of the building took place in normal working hours, as the contract provided no incentive for the contractor to work outside regular hours.

Finally completed a year behind schedule and costing twice as much as had been originally anticipated, the new road is one of the most environmentally sensitive ever built in Europe.

And Wicklow County Council would argue that the road had been constructed in an area of outstanding natural beauty, with minimal effect to the environment - despite what protesters may have claimed in the past.

For example some 600 oak trees which had been propagated from acorns collected in the glen were planted to replace the mature trees which were originally felled; wildlife passes were provided for small mammals such as badgers and foxes; and fish ladders and culverts featuring light wells were provided, as one previously dormant stream came back to life.

An independent inquiry into time and budget overruns has been commissioned by the Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan, and it is likely that future road building contracts will be carefully worded to guard against costly overruns.

Reportedly, 95 per cent of road building projects in the state are completed on time and budget - with the Glen of the Downs being the notable exception to the rule.

Overall though, the new dual carriageway is sure to be a great asset to County Wicklow in the years ahead, particularly when the M50 and roadworks south of Newtownmountkennedy are completed.

Journey times to and from Dublin will be almost halved and that can only be good news for the commuting population who've endured such hard times over the last three years.

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