TRANSPORT Minister Shane Ross has cast fresh doubts on whether the Limerick to Cork motorway will kick off by 2023.
Responding to a Dail question from Limerick Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins, Mr Ross said the “size and scale” of this route would use up the entire pot available for capital spending.
It comes in a week where the Fine Gael leadership frontrunner Leo Varadkar launched his policy document in which he pledged to “substantially increase capital spend above what is already planned through a new national plan” for the road.
Local authorities and business chambers in both Cork and Limerick are lobbying the government to include the M20 in the Midterm Capital Review, with the chief executive of the Limerick Chamber Dr James Ring saying both cities would benefit from an investment point of view.
Addressing the Dail, Mr Ross said: “The problem is the scale and size. The problem with spending it now is it would use up the entire allocation of the capital review. I'm afraid that cannot be done. What I wouldn't rule out is creative solutions. When I talk about this, people get alarmed and think rerouting of a method or on a route or on a method or a route they find obnoxious. Don't ask me to comment on particular leaks, but what I will say is this project is still alive.”
Mr Collins said: “There is a huge amount of concern in Limerick and the Mid-West about maintaining and enhancing the competitiveness of the region. One of the key pillars of competitiveness missing from the region is the M20 motorway between Limerick and Cork, the second and third cities in the country. The urgency cannot be lost on you, your department and Transport Infrastructure Ireland.”
Mr Varadkar had confirmed if he wins the leadership of Fine Gael, the new capital plan “will allow long delayed projects like the Dublin metro and the M20 between Cork and Limerick”.
The news was welcomed by Fine Gael Senator Kieran O’Donnell, who says he thinks his colleague will deliver on this pledge – despite the fact he axed the plan at the height of the financial crisis back in 2011.
“I believe he is a politician of his word, and it is something I will look towards being built as quickly as possible. It’s vital for regional development and cuts to commuter time,” Mr O’Donnell said.
But Dr Ring expressed caution around Mr Varadkar’s comments, saying: “He’s sort of saying ‘I’m going to do everything’. We all know he doesn’t have the money to do everything.”
He called on Mr Varadkar to make a statement outlining exactly which projects are his ultimate priorities. The Dublin TD is the favourite to take the crown of Taoiseach having secured the support of the majority of Fine Gael’s parliamentary party.