Ladies and gentlemen it is great to be here today to officiate at the official opening of this, the penultimate section of the Major Interurban Routes network.
We are now very close to delivering a set of motorways that can compete with the very best in Europe. These routes, linking Belfast, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford with Dublin provide fast, predictable and safe journeys for all users of the network.
Whether you are an exporter trying to get your goods to market or a tourist visiting Ireland, your journey will be so much better than was ever the case in Ireland in the past.
Gone are the bad old days of four and five-hour journeys between Dublin and Cork, and horror stories of being stuck in traffic in Gort or Loughrea for hours. Traffic tailbacks in places like Monasterevin and Castledermot are just bad memories for drivers now. Of course these towns, and many more like them, are benefiting enormously from having all that passing traffic removed from their main streets.
The Exchequer has invested € 17.8 billion in the construction and maintenance of national road infrastructure since 1986. In 2010 alone, Exchequer funding of over €1.1 billion was allocated for national road projects – despite the economic downturn. The five Inter-Urban Routes involved the construction of over 1000km of new roads.
The construction element of the capital cost of the MIUs is estimated at €5.56 billion.
There have been detractors of these major inter-urban roads who believe that the roads are too big given the present economic circumstances and too expensive. But these projects are not just designed for the ‘here-and-now’. As has often been said in the past, to the point of becoming overused, we are an island economy on the outer fringe of the EU.
If we want to encourage inward investment to Ireland to sustain jobs, provide long-term security of employment and grow our economy, it behoves us as a nation to make our country as attractive a place to ‘set up shop’ as we possibly can. You can rest assured that every other country in the world is doing precisely the same thing. Providing adequate transport infrastructure such as these major interurban routes is just one element of a whole package we need to put together to sell Ireland.
But it is a vitally important part of the overall package. In today’s highly competitive environment fast, economical, predictable journey times to and from ports and airports are a major deciding factor for any company wishing to set up in Ireland.
These new routes will make the cities of Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, and the regions they serve, as attractive as Dublin or the East coast. They will open up areas of the country that heretofore were considered far too far away from major ports and airports to be considered economical.
The NRA has learnt many lessons along the way, as have the local authorities and the construction consortia involved in the many projects that go to make up these inter-urban routes. Technologically speaking, some of the projects were extremely advanced.
The Limerick Tunnel, the free-flow interchanges on the M50, indeed this project itself, tested the abilities of all involved to develop their expertise and, in some cases I’m sure, their ingenuity in dealing with the kind of challenges construction works of this scale can frequently throw out. The construction of the interchanges on the M50, especially at the Red Cow and Blanchardstown are fine examples of the kind of project management expertise built up on these projects. This section of the M7 also held some challenges for Bothar Hibernian, who rose to the challenge. I know the project is slightly behind time but it remains within budget despite the technical difficulties posed by that quite short section over Annaholty Bog.
May I conclude by thanking all of those who were involved in this project. My thanks to the NRA, Limerick County Council, the contractors Bothar Hibernian group comprising Mota Engil, Michael McNamara & Co and Coffey Construction, and everyone else involved.
Today is a day you should always remember. As you drive along this road in the future you can all take justifiable pride in your contributions to this excellent job of work.