If you’ve heard our radio reports on a regular basis, you’ll be aware that Galway has a big traffic problem for such a small city.
Long tailbacks on routes like the Tuam Rd, Headford Rd, Quincentenary Bridge, Dublin Rd and Bóthar na dTreabh are the norm, and it’s not uncommon for whole areas of the city to grind to a halt after a traffic incident.
For years, Galwegians have been calling for a new road to bypass the city, and after a number of false starts it still hasn’t materialised. However, plans have recently been submitted to the planners for a road that would cross the entire city from Ballybrit to a point just west of Barna.
We spoke to Derek Pender from Galway City Council to find out more.
Photo of William O’Brien Bridge by William Murphy
Derek tells us that the project can be traced as far back as December 2006, when the first set of plans were submitted to An Bord Pleanála. Almost two years later, in November 2008, these plans were partially approved, but permission for a large section of the route between the N59 Moycullen Rd and the Coast Rd (R336) was refused.
Following a judicial review in the High Court, the original decision was upheld, however in late 2009 a further appeal on environmental grounds was granted and the Supreme Court consulted the European Court of Justice on an interpretation of the Habitats Directive.
Nearly four years passed until, in April 2013, the Supreme Court quashed the earlier decision by An Bord Pleanála to approve the eastern section of the route, leaving the entire project having to start again at the feasibility and concept stage, with all possible alternatives on the table.
Seven objectives have been set out for the project, summarised as follows:
(click to enlarge)
Plans were submitted to An Bord Pleanála at the end of October 2018, including the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) and the Natura Impact Statement (NIS). In addition, people whose land will be subject to compulsory acquisition (known in this case as a Motorway Order or Protected Road Order) have been notified, and details submitted to the planners.
After a period of public consultation was completed in December, ABP will consider the plans and all submissions. They’re also entitled to hold an oral hearing and/or ask for more information about the proposal.
Once the plans have been approved and funding confirmed – and as long as there are no legal challenges – the project then moves on to land purchase, detailed design, the procurement of a contractor and, finally, construction.
Derek Pender says that a number of other options were considered, including “a ‘Do-Nothing’ option, a ‘Do- Minimum’ option and a ‘Do-Something Traffic Management Measures’ option”.
In his words, the final option that was chosen has “the least impact on the receiving environment in terms of impacts on people, ecology and all other environmental factors and has the least number of residential demolitions.”
Photo of Galway city centre by William Murphy
Derek identifies two groups that he sees as being the most significant users of the new road – those that need to cross the city and currently use the existing N6/Bóthar na dTreabh to do so, and those that currently “rat-run” through the city centre in order to avoid congestion on national roads.
As he puts it, “The function of the [new road] is to facilitate the reduction of existing traffic congestion and future-proof the effectiveness of this part of the national road network.”
Simply put, the bridges. “There are currently four bridges across the River Corrib connecting the west of Galway to the east,” Derek explains. “These bridges are currently operating at capacity and there is no resilience in the road network if any of these bridges is closed.”
He also identifies the current congestion on the bridges as a barrier to “smarter mobility and public transport measures” – using technology to increase efficiency, safety and co-ordination across the various transport networks, and introducing new initiatives like card-based ticketing for all services (like Dublin’s Leap card), real-time passenger information at bus stops, and a city bike share scheme.
Photo of Eyre Square by Eoin Gardiner
Derek says that construction of the new road will “minimise, as much as possible, any disturbance to the local residents, road users, and businesses”, and he is keen to stress that potential contractors will have to show how they will comply with this when they are tendering for the work.
Construction will begin no earlier than 2021, and is expected to take around three years in total. All being well, the road could be open to traffic in late 2024 or early 2025.
Derek explains that the road is part of a wider Galway Transport Strategy (GTS), which consists of a number of other measures designed to make the city work better for those that use public transport, and who walk or cycle. These include a new high frequency, cross-city bus network, park and ride facilities, and/or traffic measures like bus priority at junctions.
Overall, says Derek, “The provision of reliable, safe and sustainable alternatives will encourage people to choose alternatives to private car usage.”
Main photo credit: Galway County Council