Dublin 4 residents shocked at plan to fix Merrion Gates bottleneck
Locals fear NTA scheme for traffic blackspot will render their homes ‘unsellable’
A Dart passes the Merrion Gates railway crossing in Dublin 4. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Listeners to morning traffic reports will be familiar with the Merrion Gates, even if they’ve never been through them.
This bottleneck railway crossing causes persistent daily tailbacks on the Merrion and Rock Roads as traffic funnels into the narrow Strand Road towards Ringsend.
For years, traffic engineers have tried and failed to come up with a solution to the problem.
In parallel, the Dublin local authorities have for decades sought to develop a Dublin Bay cyclepath – a continuous coastal route from Sutton to Sandycove, but have hit against the problem of the gates and of properties on Strand Road which have been built down to the sea.
Now, the National Transport Authority (NTA) has come up with a €48 million solution to these twin problems.
It proposes to dig an underpass for use by cyclists and pedestrians, and close the level crossing to traffic.
Instead, traffic will reach Merrion Road on a new road and bridge over the rail line further north through the car parks of Merrion Hall on Strand Road and Our Lady Queen of Peace church on Merrion Road.
Merrion Road and Rock Road will be widened with new segregated cycling facilities.
There will, however, be casualties of the scheme with the NTA proposing to acquire 35 properties, mostly front gardens, but a small number of houses and other buildings.
A Merrion Road homeowner, whose front garden would be more than halved by the scheme, said he was concerned his house would be rendered unsellable.
“It’s a massive shock. We knew nothing about this and already they have a preferred route.
“It’s going to affect me quite badly because, it looks like they want 1.18 metres of the front garden which will make the parking space useless. This is a family home and people with families have cars.”
He was also concerned about the loss of mature trees on the road and the destruction of railings which were on the Record of Protected Structures.
“What they are doing seems a destructive and expensive way of going about things. Instead, of creating a new road, why can’t they just put in a new bridge over the existing Merrion Gate junction?”
Another Merrion Road resident said she could see no advantages to the scheme.
“If this goes ahead it will devalue the house, the road will be made more dangerous and the traffic will be closer to the house.”
She said she did not believe the cycle and pedestrian underpass would be used.
“If they’re putting in an underpass why don’t they put in a car underpass, because pedestrians are not going to use it. The one in Blackrock closed down – what woman is going to walk through there?”
She said she received a letter about 10 days ago stating the “emerging preferred scheme” could affect her property.
“I phoned and asked if other options had been considered and I was told yes, but this was the preferred one. It’s a bit like Chairman Mao telling us what we must do.”
A Strand Road resident whose property may also be subject to compulsory purchase said the possibility of the scheme going ahead seemed somewhat remote.
“They’ve had various plans to deal with the traffic over the years, in the 1960s they wanted to take the front garden for road widening, but that came to nothing.
“Then there was the idea of building to tunnel under the strand. Then they were going to put a cycle land on boardwalk out over sea, which would have been at the end of gardens that aren’t very long.”
A benefit of the scheme is that Strand Road, currently very narrow particularly as it approaches the Merrion Gates, will become a cul-de-sac.
However, she said this does not justify the new overpass.
“I’ve never seen anything so ridiculous. The bridge seems very narrow and to have it so high going through the church grounds – ridiculous!
“And it’s not going to make the slightest bit of difference to traffic on Merrion Road – in fact it will make it worse. It makes you wonder what problem it is they’re trying to solve.”
Fr Fergus O’Connor, parish priest of Our Lady Queen of Peace, said he was “very much in favour” of providing a coastal cyclepath.
“I would use it myself, and I realise the Merrion Gates has long been a traffic problem, but the solution that is proposed is really awkward for us.”
Less than three years ago the church rebuilt its car park and still carries €200,000 in debt from the project.
“We went to a lot of effort redesigning the car park, making it accessible for older people, and it is often full, particularly for 12 o’clock Mass.”
The proposed link road would take around a third of the car park.
“We would like to work constructively with the design team, but this solution would severely impact on the services we provide to the local community now and for generations to come.”
Local Labour senator Kevin Humphreys said he was shocked not to have been informed about the scheme.
“There was no consultation with elected representatives prior to a press release going out. That wouldn’t be the norm and is poor form. It took the residents by surprise and that’s the sort of thing that builds resistance to a scheme.” He said he was concerned the new bridge would increase traffic on beach road.
A spokesman for the NTA said the scheme would be available for public consultation until December 16th, but its implementation is some time off yet.
“There will be a review of the Government’s Capital Plan next year, and we would hope to have a finalised scheme to submit to that.
“Then, depending on getting the green light, there would be an 18-month process, to develop an environmental impact statement and other documents, which would then be submitted to An Bord Pleanála. ”
If approved by the Government and the planning board, it would take another two years to construct.