Following the pouring of 4,400 tonnes of concrete, the laying of 500 tonnes of steel, and an overrun of approximately 10 months, the 21st bridge to cross the Liffey in Dublin city is set to open in about six months time.
Although it remains nameless, the new public transport bridge spanning the river between Marlborough Street and Hawkins Street, just east of O’Connell Bridge, is almost complete and while an official opening date has yet to be set, is due to be ready for use by February of next year. The “heavy lifting” phase of construction is almost at an end, with just 2-2½ months more work before the deck is completed and the river is effectively bridged.
The remaining period will be spent laying the Luas track in the centre of the bridge, laying out the two bus and cycle lanes, adding granite footpaths, constructing flood protection walls, which double as public seating, and installing balustrading.
A bridge at this location was proposed by the city council as far back as 1997, but at that stage it was earmarked for a pedestrian only crossing, primarily aimed at drawing punters to the Abbey Theatre, but also part of wider plans for the rejuvenation of the O'Connell Street area.
The council was still talking about a pedestrian bridge when in 2003 it announced the extension of the Liffey boardwalk from O’Connell Bridge to Butt Bridge. It was the advent of plans to connect the Red and Green Luas lines which expanded the council’s ambitions for the bridge.
In 2005, five proposed routes for the cross-city Luas line were announced, two of which required a bridge at Marlborough Street. The following year the Railway Procurement Agency announced its preferred route for the line, confirming the need for the bridge.
It was not until mid-2008, however, when the council announced that a public transport bridge was to be constructed at a cost of €15 million. Work was due to begin in late 2009 and take approximately 18 months.
The economic crash intervened and funding wrangles followed; at one stage cost estimates are understood to have risen to €18 million and work on site did not get under way until November 2011. The delay may have been a blessing in disguise as, according to city engineer Michael Phillips, the project is likely to come in around the €13 million mark.
Motorists who haul themselves up and down the city quays on a regular basis will note that the 18-month time line, approximations aside, has not been met. Although the quays remain open to traffic, Burgh Quay in particular – the south side of the river – is considerably harder to navigate having lost a lane to the construction site and being subject to often confusing streaming of traffic.
This soon will pass, Phillips says. By November the work should be largely completed on the bridge and apart from a small area cordoned off as a works entrance, the carriageway should be returned to normal.
Conceding that the job has taken a lot longer than expected, he says most of the delay was in creating the foundations for the bridge, rather than in the bridge construction itself. “When you’re dealing with such an old structure – Eden Quay was constructed in 1800 but Burgh Quay was built in 1662-63 – you can’t be sure what you’re going to find until you start to dig down.”
The foundations of the bridge turned out to have been built on sand rather than rock, and most of the first year of work was spent securing and stabilising the key wall and creating an abutment for the bridge.
It was October 2012 before building on the river started. A major milestone was met just over a week ago when 1,200 tonnes of concrete were poured, creating the platform of the bridge itself. A six to seven metre gap remains on either side which will be filled in over the next couple of months, completing the structure of the deck. The Luas line will then be laid and extended across the quay carriageways on both sides, so there will be no further disruption on this section of the quays when the line is being built.
When finished, the bridge will carry a single southbound tram track in the centre and two southbound bus and cycle lanes either side, one lane going straight on to Marlborough Street, the other turning right and heading towards O’Connell Bridge.
Contenders for the name of the bridge have been whittled down to five: Willie Bermingham, founder of Alone; Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary; Rosie Hackett, a trade unionist who was involved in the 1913 Lockout; Kay Mills, who played camogie for Dublin, and Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula. The council's naming committee is due to meet again next month.