Road opens after years marked by bitter rows

 

THE BIGGEST and most contentious single stretch of roadway in Irish history was opened without a hitch yesterday morning.

Though frequently on the defensive since the M3 motorway was first proposed 13 years ago, the developers of the €1 billion M3 project had their day in the sun.

Security was unprecedented for an event like this.

The opening was by invitation only and there were Garda checkpoints at the Athboy interchange where the protesters gloomily gathered at least 2km (1.25 miles) away.

It was “Spanish weather” according to Iñigo Meirás, the managing director of Ferrovial, the Spanish construction giant which built the project in a joint venture with Irish company SIAC.

An outsized Spanish flag and the tricolour flew side-by-side at the opening ceremony as a strong sun beat down on the guests who gathered on a stretch between the Athboy interchange and Navan for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Those in attendance were local mainstream politicians, representatives from various local chambers of commerce, a number of clergymen and some of the 1,000 construction workers who worked on the project including a substantial delegation from Spain.

“This day is for the people of Meath and not for those under the ground,” said former chairman of Meath County Council, Cllr Nick Killian who has been a trenchant supporter of the project from the beginning.

The protesters who considered the M3 routing through the Tara-Skyrne valley as a desecration of Ireland’s cultural heritage were conspicuous by their absence.

Onlookers gathered on an overpass, but they were so far away it was hard to see if they were protesters or curious bystanders.

A Garda helicopter was in operation in the skies overhead monitoring protesters, though none got near disrupting the opening ceremony.

It was a happy day for Minister for Transport and local TD Noel Dempsey who said his only regret was not building the motorway years earlier.

The M3 was a “much needed and strategically significant” motorway and he was proud to be the minister responsible for opening it.

It was a “historic day in a county steeped in history” he said, adding that the best route was chosen. Protesters would beg to differ.

He said the people of Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells would now get their towns back from the “choking traffic” which had blighted their quality of life for years.

“All of us who commute or have a business along this route have been looking forward to this day for quite some time and it is great that it has finally arrived,” he said.

The chairman of Meath County Council, Cllr William Carey acknowledged that there were people upset by the routing of the M3 motorway, but he believed it would be “impossible” to build any road through the Tara area without disturbing remains.

The whole project constitutes nearly 100km of new road, the largest single road project ever built in the State.

Along with 60km of motorway, there will be 35km of side roads, 15km of link roads and a 4km N52 bypass of Kells.

There are tolls at Dunshaughlin and Clonee and one at Grange between Navan and Kells.

The cost will be €1.30 for each toll.

The road was supposed to open at 4pm yesterday, but by early afternoon 200 cars had queued up to try and be the first to use it.