After nearly 13 years of planning, design, and construction, the final stage of the €40 million Mullingar ring road, the unromantically titled western relief road, was opened to traffic on Tuesday afternoon.
However, this stretch of carriageway will only be so named for a mere three weeks before the scheme is to be officially named the Joe Dolan Memorial bridge by Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, and Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Cllr Michael Dollard in a ceremony at noon on Monday September 6.
Extending from Lynn Road to Clonmore, the €13 million project crosses a 540m, multi-span bridge, the longest in the Republic.
The 26-year-old Foyle Bridge in Derry holds both the all-island records for being the longest at 866m, and having the widest span, at 234m.
The Joe bridge crosses the flood plain of the river Brosna as well as Lacy’s canal. There will be 3.1m (10ft) of clearance over the canal to allow for future boat passage. The ground conditions, which consist of 10m of peat over 20m of very soft silt, mean that constructing the bridge was a “considerable engineering challenge”, according to county manager, Danny McLoughlin.
Lacy’s canal was an 18th century link between Mullingar and Lough Ennell, and is no longer in use. It was named after Hugh de Lacy, a 12th century Lord of Meath, who lived in Mullingar, and it enters the lake about a mile south of Butler’s Bridge.
The ahead-of-schedule opening of the bridge has been facilitated by an early completion of the works by Westmeath County Council under senior engineer, Michael Connolly, and its main contractor, Messrs Jons Civil Engineering Company Limited.
During this three week, soft opening period, the new road link will begin to enable other road changes, including some road closures, to be carried out around the town from the council’s programme of work by relieving the traffic pressure.
The new road and bridge can be accessed from the south via the new N52 by-pass or the R400 (old Tullamore Road) at Lynn and connects with Clonmore Business Park at the recycling centre and on to the C-Link to the Midlands Regional Hospital, N4 to Sligo, R390 to Athlone or R392 to Ballymahon.