Minister says road scheme is 'shambles'

 

The Glen o' the Downs to Kilmacanogue road-widening scheme in Co Wicklow has become a "shambles" which should be investigated by the Minister for the Environment, Mr Cullen.

That is the opinion of Wicklow TD and Minister of State, Mr Dick Roche, who described the scheme - which has risen in price from €38 million to €85 million - as a "disaster inflicted on north Wicklow", causing severe traffic congestion in areas as far apart as Enniskerry and Windgates.

Mr Roche has also asked the Ministers for Transport and Environment to review the contracts for major road schemes in the light of the Kilmacanogue experience. ...

The controversial road scheme was first planned in the late 1980s, but was radically altered to take into account the presence of the Glen o' the Downs nature reserve in the 1990s.

After a three-year occupation of the glen by "ecowarriors", the scheme began construction in June 2002, and the 2½-year construction phase was scheduled to be completed by the end of this year - in just over a month's time.

However, with much of the work, including bridge-building and road-laying still left to do, the scheme has no possibility of making its end-of-year deadline.

The NRA said it was hopeful of a finish in 2003, but this was by no means assured as it is understood that delays have so far amounted to six months' work.

A range of ecological problems not identified by the original EIS commissioned by Wicklow County Council - including the discovery of fish in a nearby stream - have been blamed for some of the delays. The scheme also had to contend with the danger of parts of the river running dry due to earthworks.

At the western side of the glen there was a concurrent danger that the exceptionally wet summer would damage the scheme due to water run-off.

Other difficulties included the replacement of two large watermains of 30-inch and 36-inch diameters which bring water from Roundwood to Dublin.

Because the original main was over 100 years old, and its route overlapped with that of the proposed replacement main, it was replaced in stages, leading to approximately 20 separate water cut-offs in large areas of north Wicklow and south Co Dublin.

A spokesman for the contractors Ascon said the company was prevented from discussing the scheme with the media by its client obligations, and he referred all questions to Wicklow County Council.

Mr Michael Looby, the county engineer, said the contracts signed with the builder were drawn up to strict guidelines issued by Government, and he defended the timescale and engineering difficulties such as the watermains and geo-technical problems encountered in the glen.

The roadworks have also had to contend with up to 30,000 vehicles a day moving through the site, he added.

However, Mr Roche said this aspect could easily have been predicted and he questioned the council's timing of roadworks on the alternative route, the R761 from Greystones over Windgates, as well as roadworks at Killarney Road in Bray, a feeder road to the N11 at Kilmacanogue.

Mr Roche said: " It is clear that nobody knows exactly when this road is going to finish.

"There appears to be a lethargic approach to the problem.

"I have asked the Ministers for Environment and Transport to review the operation of all Government contracts particularly to see if they should not be required to work at weekends and at night if necessary," he said.