By Suzanne Pender
SECURING the long-awaited bypass of Tullow, incorporating a second river crossing, will be a “complex, slow and expensive” process and will be difficult to achieve. The uphill battle ahead was laid out in stark terms by council officials at Tullow Municipal District’s online meeting last week.
Senior engineer Kieran Cullinane outlined the background to the long-running efforts to secure a bypass of the town, which include two separate proposals: a Tullow outer relief road and, separately, a Tullow bypass, both of which appear on various long-term planning maps.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) had previously indicated plans for an outer relief road – a 5km route incorporating areas of Adristan and to the west of Tullow – which had an estimated cost of €17m in 2011. This report has not progressed beyond a line on a map over the years and does not appear to be a priority for TII, according to council officials.
“A large bypass of Tullow, in my opinion, is not on TII’s radar,” stated Mr Cullinane.
A separate Tullow bypass linking the Rathoe Road, Carlow Road, Ballymurphy Road, Dublin Road and Ardattin Road had been mooted in 2006-07 and had even reached ‘part 8’ in the planning process with €2m allocated, but then it abruptly stalled. That project, which included a river crossing, was estimated at an overall cost of €14m.
Mr Cullinane pointed out that these plans predated legislative requirements and habitat directives, therefore most of the work previously done on this route is now “obsolete” and the planning process would have to begin again “at zero” to bring this plan to fruition.
The town’s development had also extended in the intervening years, which would call into question the current location for the bypass.
Mr Cullinane pointed out that TII’s outer relief road conflicts with this Tullow bypass plan, which would be under the remit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS), and that would also be an issue in terms of progressing any project. “It is highly unlikely that we’d get both,” he stated.
Mr Cullinane indicated that a strategic assessment would have to be carried out, an expensive process, which would have to take into account regional and national objectives and strategies. “We would need to be realistic about what can be achieved and make a business case for carrying out a strategic assessment,” stated Mr Cullinane.
Cllr William Paton expressed his disappointment that the relief road isn’t being considered, but said it was “crucial” to connect the four roads of Rathoe, Carlow, Ballymurphy and the Dublin Road. “That would make a substantial difference to traffic in the town,” he added.
Cllr Brian O’Donoghue asked about the criteria or deciding factors in selecting a project, asking if population, a traffic study and CO2 emissions were all considered. Cllr O’Donoghue said that as a council they needed “to get the ball rolling in whatever way we can”, adding that Tullow needed a bypass and a second river crossing, describing it as “the biggest project facing Tullow”.
Mr Cullinane stated that traffic delays and congestion to the stage where commerce is affected is a factor, but added that climate change and reducing traffic volumes was a significant factor in the current focus. “It is very difficult to present any structural report without examining all other options,” he said, indicating that large road network projects were under considerable scrutiny.
Cllr John Pender also expressed his disappointment, recalling that twice over the years he had stood at the proposed location for Tullow’s second bridge crossing with government ministers Roche and Cullen.
“What this needs is common sense. Most of the land for the bypass is council owned and if we can’t build on land we own … where only a small bit of acquisition is required, surely at this stage it has to be our number one priority because if we keep talking about outer relief roads, then forget about it,” added cllr Pender.
Cllr Paton also argued for the council to push hard for a second bridge, adding that there is “lots of common ground here”.
“I’d ask Kieran to look at the options as quickly as possible. My own preference is for the four roads to be connected,” said cllr Paton.
Director of services Padraig O’Gorman described the efforts to secure a project of this significance as “complex and slow”. Referring to the previous plan, he said it may not now be the optimum solution for Tullow.
Mr O’Gorman said it was “a totally different landscape now” in terms of the focus on transport, with different criteria when it comes to building roads.
“Tullow is the third-biggest centre of population in Carlow/Kilkenny; we deserve our own share of national funding and it’s behoving on us to lobby everyone for it,” replied cllr Pender.