RUNNING for almost a kilometre, the spectacular new bridge across the River Barrow near New Ross will be the longest in Ireland.
Rising to 40 metres above the river and carrying four lanes of traffic, the bridge will be iconic for the town of New Ross and for the South East.
The crossing will run from an area known as the Pink Rock to Stokestown, and will link into the New Ross Bypass, connecting the N30 and the N25. It and the bypass will dramatically change traffic patterns in the area, particularly in heavily-congested New Ross, where peak hours delays can run to more than an hour.
County Manager Eddie Breen said the council would be ready to go with Compulsory Purchase Orders by the end of the year, with work on the 900 metre long bridge due to start at the end of next year or early in 2008. It will take up to the three years to complete.
Consulting engineer John Murphy, from Mott McDonald EPO, gave county councillors a detailed overview of the bridge, which he described as an 'extrados' structure, a combination between a traditional bridge and a cable-stay suspension bridge, with a tower rising to 25 metres above the bridge deck in the centre of the river and two spans of 230 metres in length.
'It will be a phenomenal thing in itself, the building of it will be something for everyone to see, something to be proud of,' he told councillors at Monday's meeting.
Mr. Murphy said a topographical survey which was under way, with site investigations over the whole route, around 14 km of rural and agricultural lands in Counties Kilkenny and Wexford, plus the river crossing, due to start within the next two to three weeks.
Cllr. John Dwyer questioned the design of the bridge, which will be much higher on the County Kilkenny side than on the County Wexford bank. The councillor then asked, without spelling out what he was referring to, whether there was any word on a legal challenge.
Mr. Murphy said he knew nothing of any challenge.
'The Pink Rock is quite high and the bridge does slope down on one side,' said Mr. Murphy, describing this as a bonus, because the extra height enabled shipping to navigate that side of the structure.
'Half the bridge is for free. The Pink Rock gives us the opportunity to clear the river and give full clearance to shipping...we feel happy that it's right for that location,' he said.
Welcoming news of the bridge, Cllr. Larry O'Brien asked whether someone could tell the council's planners that the route for the bypass and the bridge was confirmed, because it didn't appear to be common knowledge.
And Cllr. Sean Doyle said that while the bridge was exciting for the people of New Ross, it wasn't that exciting for Enniscorthy, which he said was now further down the pecking order, and suggested that the council and the NRA had colluded to make it happen that way.
'It was first Enniscorthy and then New Ross, but its gone the other way,' said Cllr. Peter Byrne.
County Manager Eddie Breen said there was no collusion or intrigue in the process and the fact was that while money for the design of the New Ross bypass had been made available in 2005, no money was granted for Enniscorthy.
Enniscorthy, he said, was running a year behind the New Ross bypass.
Cllr. Denis Kennedy warmly greeted news of the bridge, and criticised those members complaining about the development priorities.
'At long last we're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. If you're stuck in traffic coming from Waterford into New Ross, the frustration and anger of the motorists on the road there is a lot more than the frustration Cllr. Sean Doyle is experiencing,' he said.
Cllr. Lisa McDonald appealed to fellow members to look at the big picture.
'We need to look at this from a county level...we needed a western corridor linking us to Waterford and need to look at the road from Dublin to Rosslare Europort...we need to be looking at this in a global sense rather than in a parochial sense,' she said.
Mr. Breen said the bypass developments currently under way and planned in County Wexford were consistent with the objectives of the National Development Plan, and discussions were currently taking place with the NRA about the Rosslare bypass.
Cllr. Doyle had suggested, tongue in cheek, at the meeting about whether the second river crossing may turn out to be a toll bridge, and to be sure a toll wasn't in the pipeline in some secret agenda, Cllr. Dwyer asked the County Manager if this was the case. Mr. Breen said it was not.