Developers of the major Galway Harbour Extension will be asked to dig deep to contribute to the upgrading of Lough Atalia Road and replacement of Wolfe Tone Bridge to mitigate the significant wear and tear that will be caused by a significant increase in HGV movements, as well as agreeing to be subject to penalty clauses if the traffic management plan is not adhered to.
On January 14 last An Bord Pleanála requested the Galway City Council to prepare a report setting out its views on the effects that the proposed development would have on the environment and the proper planning and sustainable development of the area of the authority. This follows the lodgement of the application by Galway Harbour Company to An Bord Pleanála under the IROPI (Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest). The planning board requested that the council address 27 identified issues, and the council presented its report, with more than 40 conditions attached, to the chamber at Monday’s Galway City Council meeting. The report is due to be submitted to the board by April 3 and an oral hearing will be held by An Bord Pleanála in early May.
Highlighting the main points of the extensive report, senior planner Caroline Phelan told councillors that the IROPI process had been followed due to the possible impact the development would have on habitats during the seven year construction period. The reclamation of 27 hectares will result in a “significant impact” on a number of mudflats and sandflats, and the dredging of a 46 hectare area will release solids and contaminants into the water, however, Ms Phelan stressed that this will be temporary, that it will “settle”, and that any effects will be reversed. The council has made it a requirement for the dredging to be continually monitored so that the quality of water in Galway Bay, which a report in 2009 found to be of very good status be maintained.
Ms Phelan noted that there would be a displacement of a body of water with the reclamation of the 27 hectares. However, an examination using modelling techniques found this would have a “negible impact” on tidal waves. “It won’t exacerbate any problems that already exist,” said Ms Phelan, who added that maps for flood mitigation would be prepared and that the OPW had commissioned the CFRAM report examining coastal protection works.
It was the possible effect on the traffic in the city which attracted the most criticism from councillors. The report highlights the intention of the council to put in place a traffic management plan to minimise the effect during peak times. The council requires that “the details of the plan be agreed, and it would also have to be convinced that all contractors/operators would adhere to the relevant terms which should have penalty clauses included”.
The report further noted: “The traffic section of the EIS relies heavily on the notion that the proposed harbour will not increase existing traffic volumes by more than five per cent at most junctions. While this may be correct for general traffic it does not take into account the increase in HGV traffic. Galway City Council carried out a traffic count on the Lough Atalia Road/College Road junction and along Lough Atalia Road in November 2012. It was found that on an average weekday there are 376 HGV movements on Lough Atalia Road. During the operation of the development it is expected there will be an increase of HGV movements of between 102 and 147 per cent during am and pm peak times. This potential increase in the number of HGVs will result in the significant shortening of the lifespan of existing roads. The EIS states that during phase one of construction 305 HGV movements would be generated per day.
This increase could have significant effect on the Lough Atalia Road/College Road junction, particularly when taking a relatively tight right hand turn on to College Road. Slow moving, laden HGVs turning can cause considerable wear on the road surface. The city council is recommending that the developer upgrades this junction and realigns it in order to ease HGV movements.”
A number of operational traffic haul routes were identified by the EIS, one of these routes being the R336, via Wolfe Tone Bridge, which is a haul route to Barna and Moycullen. Recent reports commissioned by the council recommended that a weight restriction of 26 tonnes be applied to the bridge in the immediate term and that the bridge should be replaced in the long term. The weight restriction will result in all HGVs in excess of 26 tonnes using an alternative route. The report also notes: “As it is most likely that this bridge will be replaced in the future, the developer who would consequently have benefited from the increased bearing capacity of a new bridge should make a contribution to its construction.”
Ms Phelan also told the chamber that the developer would be asked to contribute towards the cost and provision of all recreational and community facilities including a nautical centre within the harbour enterprise/extension area. Galway Harbour Company is required to make available a portion of land, located in the inner harbour, that will sustain a building for use for public/ community/civic purposes associated with heritage/tourism/education/culture. Contributions are also being requested for Lough Atalia which a recent report found to be in poor ecological condition.
“There’s no way in the world that a development of this size and stature is not going to have an effect on traffic,” said Cllr Michael Crowe, who added that he was supportive of the project but that the developers should make a significant contribution to the bridge, Lough Atalia upgrade, and the general wear and tear of the roads and path around the site.
“To say there will be a five per cent increase is nonsense if the port is being increased three times. The only place for the HGVs to come is down Lough Atalia Road which is a nightmare as it is,” said Cllr Frank Fahy, who added that none of the HGVs would be able to go over Wolfe Tone Bridge with the weight restriction.
“It is disingenuous to suggest the expansion will not have an impact on traffic,” said Cllr Colette Connolly, who added: “We have all seen the impact of Solas cinema and that was the closure of one lane. The doubling of HGVs per day will be massively problematic for the Lough Atalia Road/College Road junction. This requires a major investment. We can’t plough ahead with the existing road structure we have. “She also called on developers to provide the council with an undertaking, in writing, before the works begin to adhere conditions.
Cllr Catherine Connolly stressed that the oral hearing was “vitally important given the size and extent of the proposed development extending out into Galway Bay which is an area that has special protection as an SAC, a SPA, and on and/or adjacent to a number of Natura 2000 specially protected sites”. Cllr Connolly said she had particular concerns in relation to flooding, particularly the Claddagh, and that it was “premature” to proceed without first receiving the report from the OPW on the flood situation in Galway city which will not be available until the end of 2015.
Roads engineer Brian Kelly told councillors that 300 HGVs a day was a “very small proportion of the overall amount” and “will cause significant wear and tear on the road surface”, however, it “won’t have a major impact on the traffic”. He added that Lough Atalia needed to be upgraded to allow for the safe movement of the HGVs, particularly when turning right on to College Road.