Shannon bridge plan could affect tunnel tolls


PLANS FOR a bridge across the river Shannon to bypass Killaloe, Co Clare, could undermine the €660 million Limerick Tunnel by diverting traffic from it, according to the National Roads Authority (NRA).

The plans, drawn up by consultant engineers Roughan O’Donovan for Clare County Council and North Tipperary County Council, are the subject of an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála under the 2006 Strategic Infrastructure Act.

They maintain that the proposed 6.2km bypass, including a multiple arch bridge, is “required to overcome the inadequacies of the existing road network in facilitating improved traffic circulation and reducing congestion and delays in Killaloe and Ballina”, in north Co Tipperary.

But an NRA spokesman said the route would take traffic away from the tolled tunnel, which is already costing taxpayers €90,000 per week in penalty payments because traffic volume is below forecast.

The tunnel was built under a public-private partnership involving Sisk, Strabag, Roadbridge and Lagan Holdings. It is being paid €4.7 million a year in penalties for the lower-than-expected traffic levels.

If planning permission is granted for the proposed bypass, the fear is motorists would use the route to avoid tolls at the tunnel. The levy ranges from €1.80 for cars to €5.70 for heavy vehicles.

“Any additional crossing of the river Shannon would be detrimental to traffic numbers in the Limerick Tunnel, with additional cost to taxpayers,” said an NRA spokesman. However, the NRA has no direct function in the matter as the €40 million venture involves upgrading a regional road, rather than a national one, and it will not be making a submission to An Bord Pleanála.

The hearing is being held this week in Nenagh, Co Tipperary.

The environmental impact statement notes that the existing R463 regional road is a single-carriageway route of “varying standard” passing through rural Co Clare and the town of Killaloe, where it crosses the Shannon on an old masonry arch bridge.

The proposed bridge would cross the river 1km south of the town and “significantly improve traffic safety and congestion in Killaloe and Ballina”, it says, adding that congestion is “exacerbated” by the existing route being used as “a bypass of Limerick”.