The news that came out of An Bord Pleanala on Tuesday that the Galway City Outer Bypass has been consigned to history is a massive blow to Galway’s chances of ever really developing the sort of infrastructure it needs to put this city on a level footing with the other major cities. The news has been greeted with dismay by people who have a strong commitment to seeing Galway get the sort of facilities it deserves if it ever hopes to genuinely be this country’s third city. It has been welcomed by those who opposed it on grounds of proximity, ecological concerns and perhaps in some cases, by people who object on a point of principle, no matter the location throughout the country. For the tens of thousands of others who were looking forward to Galway’s transport infrastructure getting a shot in the arm, it is bad news. Every year we are slipping further and further behind the other cities which must be laughing at Galway’s ability to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to providing the sort of infrastructure that cities by their nature need if they are to carry on being cities and not become bottlenecks. We had the same thing with Mutton Island. Months in meeting-hours were spent at city council level trying to get this through, and now even its original detractors have to admit that the sky did not fall in. With any major infastructural development, there are worthy merits and demerits, and the Galway City Outer Bypass was no different in that regard. No doubt, it would have had a major detrimental effect on the quality of life in picturesque areas such as Ballindooley and Bushypark. It would cut through the natural environment like a sword, but the nature of modern geography is to change the landscape to allow people to live in the times they are living. Other countries such as the UK manage to have broader and noisier roadways cutting through its green heart and over time they blend in, as the realisation of their necessity overrides any localised objection. But they get built. Even the motorway through the heart of Tara got the go-ahead in the end. What we were left with in Monday’s ruling is a sort of joke, an Irish joke. A joke on Galway. The bypass that does everything but allow you to pass by the area it is meant to be bypassing. And so Galway commuters will face the crawl around the city for another decade with little idea of what will be put forward as an alternative to the bypass. Thankfully, the N6 is motoring along and should be open on time, but that will do little to alleviate the city’s traffic problems where there is a massive imbalance on the location of schools and industrial estates, necessitating river and city crossings. Now the upshot of it all is that we must go back to the drawing board and start from a clean slate. We have to ask what is really achievable and what is not. How realistic is GLUAS? If it is, then let’s go down that line, but at €200 million, that too looks like a non-runner. Are bus lanes really working? Can we get people to cycle to work? Will there be work to cycle and drive to? The officials who will be charged with picking up the pieces of this decision have a lot to occupy their minds. However, let’s look at ourselves. Cork has had its tunnel for several years now; the one under the Shannon will be open in Limerick in about 24 months, and in Galway, well, zilch. Let’s hope that the programmes on the radio are interesting for the next decade, cos we’re going to be stuck in traffic for many many more years to come.
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