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Shorter journeys thanks to Ireland's longest bridge

New Ross Bypass official opening

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Rose Katherine Kennedy Townsend with Donagh and Eanna Grennan, who are grandchildren of Johanna Ryan, who welcomed John F Kennedy to Dunganstown in 1963

Rose Katherine Kennedy Townsend with Donagh and Eanna Grennan, who are grandchildren of Johanna Ryan, who welcomed John F Kennedy to Dunganstown in 1963

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Rose Katherine Kennedy Townsend perform the official opening of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Rose Katherine Kennedy Townsend perform the official opening of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge

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Rose Katherine Kennedy Townsend with Donagh and Eanna Grennan, who are grandchildren of Johanna Ryan, who welcomed John F Kennedy to Dunganstown in 1963

After a 30-year wait and many twists and turns the New Ross Bypass finally opened to traffic on Thursday, with trucks from local haulage company Nolan Transport the first to cross the magnificent structure.

The grand-niece of President John F Kennedy joined Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Wednesday on the Wexford side of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge at Stokestown in opening the 14km New Ross Bypass and Ireland's longest bridge - named after her great-grandmother.

Rose Katherine Kennedy Townsend, a grandchild of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, attended the official opening of the 36m high, 887m bridge and 14km bypass on a sunny, if bitterly cold day, cutting a ribbon with gold scissors on the bridge with Mr Varadkar wrapped up warm and wearing leather black gloves - who was flanked by junior ministers. A large plaque headed 'Project Ireland 2040 Building Ireland's Future' was unveiled with some effort by Mr Varadkar as a gale blew on the side of the road near the bridge.

The bridge - which contains as much steel as the Eiffel Tower - is named in honour of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, mother of iconic brothers John J Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, and matriarch of the famous Irish-American family. Fittingly, the iconic structure has nine spans dedicated to her nine children. When it opened on Thursday the new bridge overtook the Foyle Bridge in Derry (866m), with its two main spans the longest post-tensioned concrete spans of their type in the world. Resembling sails, the magnificent spans were the focus of much conversation at the bridge opening, with many people, including former county councillor Jimmy Curtis - who was chairman of Wexford County Council when the route selection process was under way - saying he thought he'd never see the day, adding that it was worth the wait.

There was a celebratory atmosphere at the opening with trad band Green Road playing lively traditional, Irish songs with gusto on the stage ahead of the arrival of Mr Varadkar and junior ministers Paul Kehoe and Michael D'Arcy Jnr, along with Labour leader Brendan Howlin and junior minister John Paul Phelan.

Standing in front of a 500-strong crowd on the Wexford side of the bridge, Mr Varadkar, beaming with pride, said he gave the project the go-ahead when he was Minister for Transport in 2013, acknowledging the crucial role former Public Expenditure minister Brendan Howlin had in securing funding for it.

He said: 'It was really hard because nobody wanted to lend us any money or wanted to invest in projects like this because they didn't trust the capacity of the Irish state and the Irish people to pay the money back.'

Mr Varadkar said much has changed since then thanks to the sacrifices of the Irish people and the correct decisions being made at policy level. He said communities across Ireland have seen major road projects completed.

'This new bypass, which includes Ireland's longest bridge, will transform New Ross, Wexford, Kilkenny and the south-east. By reducing congestion and travel-times, improving road safety, and opening up economic opportunities, this will make a huge difference for commuters, for families, for businesses and for tourists,' he said.

'As we face the reality of Brexit, this investment in greater connectivity to Rosslare is an investment in our future economic security. This bypass is about strengthening connectivity between different parts of our country, and strengthening our communities.'

Remembering the late political commentator and Kennedy Summer school founder Noel Whelan, Mr Varadkar said the Ballycullane man would have loved the Kennedy name and commentating on the upcoming election.

'He made New Ross a place where Irish American culture, history and politics is debated every year I think he would really love the fact that this bypass has been named after Rose Kennedy.'

Mr Varadkar paid tribute to the thousands of people who walked the bypass and bridge the previous weekend raising money for New Ross Community Hospital, Kilkenny Homecare and Special Olympics Ireland. 'We must remember that it was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the daughter of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who founded the Special Olympics.'

'This new bypass and bridge is part of a much bigger plan for the area and the country - a plan that we call Project Ireland 2040. This project is going to make this a better part of the country to live, to work and to invest.'

Exercising his powers as Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar told pupils from local schools (Ballyfacey, Bunscoil Rís, Horeswood, Glenmore and Cushinstown) seated in front of him - 'by the power invested in me you have no homework tonight'. The pupils were also thrilled to get goodie bags containing pens and sweets from contractors BAM.

Work began on the bypass in spring 2016 and it was due to open in early 2019. There were significant delays due to weather, an accident and the discovery of crumbling concrete on an isolated section of the bridge but with new crews hired and a big push on involving late night shifts the bridge was almost ready to be opened by Christmas.

Finishing works continued after the festive break and - after four snag lists of works were completed - Transport Infrastructure Ireland furnished a notice allowing the road to be opened last week. Outstanding works on side roads remain to be completed and local landowners have been assured staff will remain on site to ensure the site is cleared up over the coming weeks.

Additionally a staff of 20 have been hired to carry out any necessary maintenance works along the bypass route for the coming decades.

The N25 New Ross Bypass PPP Project comprises the 14km dual carriageway road including new sections of both the N25 and N30 National Primary Routes. The bypass commences at a roundabout junction with the existing N25 at Glenmore before crossing over the River Barrow the bridge from Pink Point in County Kilkenny to Stokestown and continuing until it ties in with the N30 at Corcorans Cross.

The bridge will take articulated lorries out of New Ross - a former traffic blackspot, while the new bypass will forever change how local motorists living either side of the town in south east and south west Wexford travel into and around New Ross.

The bridge is named after Rose Kennedy - a dedicated philanthropist and a fundraiser for various charities especially those which worked for the betterment of the mentally handicapped. She died in 1995 aged 105.

Ms Kennedy Townsend said she had a wonderful day visiting cousins her ancestral homestead in nearby Dunganstown: 'My parents named me after my great-grandmother, so I am a wild Irish Rose and my uncle Ted and I used to sing this (song) to my great-grandmother at her house in Hyannis Port.'

She said Rose Kennedy was very proud of her Irish roots. 'This bridge is a wonderful tribute to my great-grandmother, and a symbol of her enduring love and lesson that it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, we are all God's children. When some leaders threaten to drive us apart we need to honour those who build bridges that bring us together.'

She quoted her grandfather Bobby's famous 'Ripple of Hope' speech in South Africa in which he spoke of the importance of individuals standing up for justice.

Wexford County Council Chairman Michael Sheehan said the bypass and bridge will define the lives of the people of south Kilkenny and south Wexford for the next century.

'It is our moment of destiny. The completion of this bridge and bypass is truly a marvel of modern ingenuity. The impact of a world quality icon outside of our town is about to be felt. Our time has come. The message that should go out is that south Wexford is now open and ready for business.'

He said: 'This is the culmination of our hopes and dreams, aspirations and history. The defining moment of our time. A bridge to a better future. The river defines who we are, as community, as traders, travellers and custodians of the elements. The torch has been passed to our generation. The future is ours to shape. It is with that same sense of trepidation and faith that we now look to that future with the same wonder and the same awe of what is to come.'

Cllr Sheehan said the completion of the bypass and bridge will drive investment in the area. 'Here we stand in what was an area in which our forefathers once would have toiled and fished. Indeed, with local talent we have made a mark on our area. And in this regard, I would like to mention one of our own, Mary Bowe as an engineer on this structure.

'This is a road to a better New Ross, opening up South Wexford to a road to a better South East bringing prosperity to all. It gives our area much needed room to grow and expand. And a bridge to a better future for our people. It is now a chance for the councils to press the reset buttons for our area and redefine South Wexford for the next 100 years. It is with high hopes, brimming hearts and a sense of achievement to have you all here at what will be the most defining moment of history in our lifetimes as a county. For now we are surrounded by modern carriageways giving us access to a market of up to one million people. This day has been well fought for and well deserved. Thousands of hours, challenges, hurdles and determined minds have gotten us here.'

Kilkenny County Council Chairman Peter Cleere described the bridge as an engineering wonder. 'For generations to come the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge and the adjoining roads will be used and admired for everyone.'

At the close of the speeches Cllr Sheehan presented a painting by artist Sean Curran of the bridge to Mr Varadkar and Cllr Cleere presented a painting by local artist Maeve Doherty to Ms Kennedy Townsend. Photographs of the bridge were presented to His Excellency Ambassador Ildefonso Castro of Spain and Transport Infrastructure Ireland CEO Michael Nolan.

More than 300 companies and 1,000 people worked on the project delivered by the BAM/ACS consortium on behalf of Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), and Wexford and Kilkenny County Councils.

The new bypass will significantly ease chronic traffic congestion in New Ross town offering time savings of up to 30 minutes.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 cars a day are expected to travel across the bridge, which was designed by ARUP and Carlos Fernandes Casado SL. and is estimated to have cost around €90m to build. The state's €230m investment in the New Ross project came in on budget, a project spokesperson said.

BAM CEO Theo Cullinane said the company was proud to have funded and delivered another vital piece of infrastructure for the state. 'We are delighted to say that this project was delivered successfully. This team completed this visually stunning bridge.'

He said there was no environmental issue during construction and the import and export of all materials was minimised through the processing and reuse of on site materials as general fill and in the pavement layers.

'It is fantastic to see the N25 New Ross Bypass opened today. This is a crucial piece of infrastructure for the south east region and it will have an immediate, tangible impact on the local community, who will enjoy reduced travel times and increased accessibility. The N25 is a strategic national route that carries both tourist and commercial traffic between Cork and Rosslare and it will improve connectivity across Munster and Leinster. Last year saw the opening of the M11 Gorey to Enniscorthy motorway, another PPP scheme co-delivered by BAM that has delivered significant benefits to the south east region.'

He said the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge has generated a lot of excitement in the area, describing it as a bold, innovative piece of construction.

'I am certain it is set to become an iconic part of the landscape of Ireland.'

People attending the opening availed of the opportunity to walk across the bridge to the Kilkenny side and take in the views. The bridge was buzzing with activity, including the appearance of a drone overhead. Social media sites Twitter, Facebook and Instagram was lit up with images of the opening and the bypass and bridge were busy was curious motorists taking a spin or two on the new surface over recent days,

A TII spokesperson said: 'The bypass and the bridge brought together the best of both local and international expertise culminating in one of the world's longest extrados bridges which I think we can all agree, is a magnificent structure. O'Hanrahan Bridge has served the people of the area very well for over 50 years but it has earned its gentle retirement.'

The work of everyone involved in the project, including Wexford County Council project liaison officer Sean Dobbs, director of services for roads Eamonn Hore and the team at Mott McDonald was praised.

Gorey Guardian