Minister for Transport Pascal Donohoe has said that the new Limerick to Foynes road is now a priority after confirming that he is shelving plans to complete the Limerick to Cork motorway.
But the news that the long-awaited M20 project has once again been postponed has been met with anger and disappointment in the region.
According to Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins, the lack of a motorway will damage connectivity and competitiveness and further increase the divide between Dublin and the regions.
The Limerick TD said it “beggars belief” that the Government would pursue the development of a new motorway from Limerick to Foynes while abandoning plans to link the two cities. “People simply can’t understand the Government’s thinking here. It is so obvious to everybody that this government cares less about the regions outside of Dublin. This decision is another confirmation of this approach,” Mr Collins said.
The decision has also been criticised by business groups in the region, including the Limerick Chamber of Commerce, which described the M20 as a “critical” piece of infrastructure for the development of the city and wider region.
Chief executive James Ring and his counterpart in Cork Chamber of Commerce met with Minister Donohoe recently to highlight the need for a motorway between the two cities.
“His response was that the N69 was the priority for the region,” said Mr Ring.
“We did raise the point that the M20 is a priority for us and Cork. It is glaringly obvious that that is the last piece of the jigsaw in terms of connectivity between the main cities.”
And he added that the Chamber would continue to lobby for the project to be given the go-ahead.
But Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan said the Minister’s decision not to allow the project go to planning was not surprising in light of the fact that no land has been purchased along the proposed route.
“It was always known it would come to this stage once the land was not purchased,” he said.
Mr O’Donovan pointed out that the development of the Limerick to Foynes road was now the “priority” infrastructure project in the region.
However he acknowledged the necessity for a motorway link between Limerick and Cork to compliment the Limerick to Galway motorway, the final stage of which is now underway. “From an economic point of view it makes perfect sense that the three largest cities outside of Dublin would be connected by a motorway,” he said.
“It is important that the journey times between Limerick and Cork would be reduced as much as possible because if there is to be a counterbalance to Dublin, then the Galway-Limerick-Cork connection is important.”
As well as reducing travel times between Limerick and Cork, many were hoping that the upgrading of the road would lead to the removal of a number of accident blackspots on the route. One of the worst of these is the stretch of road between Croom and Banogue and onto Charleville, where there have been a number of fatalities and near misses in recent years.
Local parish priest, Fr Eamonn O’Brien, who has attended the scenes of several of these fatal crashes described the road as a “nightmare” to drive on.
“The road is totally inadequate for the volume of traffic that is on it,” said Fr O’Brien.
He pointed out that, following the tragic death of pensioner Josie Kennedy at Banogue on November, locals had been assured that lighting would be put in place, but that this had not yet happened. “It is extremely dangerous, especially in the evening time,” he added.
Local councillor Richard O’Donoghue pointed out that accidents were a regular occurrence on that stretch of road, particularly at Anhid Cross and at the approach to Banogue village, where the speed limit goes from 100kph to 50kph.
“There are God-knows how many near misses on that stretch of road,” said the Fianna Fail councillor.
He added that the most common type of accident was “rear-ending” as cars slowed down suddenly as they entered the village of Banogue.
Speaking at this week’s meeting of the Adare Rathkeale municipal area, he called on the NRA to take “immediate action” to improve safety on the stretch of road from Croom to Rockhill Cross. “It is time they started spending the money on the N20 to get it to a safe level to allow people come and go from work or school,” he added.
Patrick O’Donovan agreed that there was an issue in relation to the current state of the road and said that he was working with the NRA to address it. “I have met the NRA in relation to that and I have also spoken to the Minister for Transport in relation to Banogue,” he said.
The issue was raised in the Seanad this Wednesday by independent Limerick senator James Heffernan, who said it was “vital” that the motorway be built. “Cork and Limerick are Ireland’s second and third largest cities and the fact that they are not connected by the proper infrastructure is, quite frankly, a joke,” he said.
The decision to shelve the M20 project was confirmed by Minister Donohoe in a written reply to County Cork TD Michael Moynihan in which he said that to proceed with the scheme would have exposed the NRA to “significant costs” without the prospect of proceeding to construction phase quickly.