Despite the appearance of gardaí on point duty at a number of strategic junctions around the town for the last few days in the wake of a council meeting that clamoured for such, a senior garda confirmed this will stop today (April 8 ), and will not be in place for the duration of the bypass renovation.
“They’re there to help facilitate the transfer of diversions from the Roscommon Road junction [on the N6] to Coosan on Friday,” he said in response to a query from the Advertiser as to whether the members seen at Custume Place in the morning rush-hour this week were there to stay.
“We’ll monitor this transfer [of roadworks] until Friday, and this has been done in consultation with the council, but we’ll not be there til October. On Friday, we’re back to normal,” he said.
Earlier in the week, at the April meeting of Athlone Town Council, there was widespread condemnation of the return of pre-bypass traffic congestion to the centre of Athlone as the ongoing €7 million N6 improvements most exercised the members in the council chamber.
Cllr Kevin “Boxer” Moran claimed he had seen his takings down by 45 per cent since the work started, and was one of a number of councillors who criticised the Executive for not doing enough to relieve recent congestion. They all felt the gardai should take control during peak points during the day.
However, director of services Barry Kehoe, believed that, in the absence of a one-way system: “There’s nothing more can be done” with the numbers of cars trying to access the town centre over the last number of weeks.
“We can’t squeeze any more traffic through the town ... and the Guards can’t move on traffic if it’s got nowhere to go,” he stated.He offered some solace by saying there would be no more diversions on the west side of the bypass from today (April 8 ), but that the council would have to return to this later in the summer.
“We need to look as a council to what we can do for the dying businesses of the town,” said Cllr Moran, in his initial response to a progress report given to the chamber into the works on the relief road which stated the delays to be “reasonable”.
“I don’t call the recent traffic we’ve had in the town ‘reasonable’. Something has to be done or this town is in trouble,” he said, before making the claim his takings from his taxi business were down “about 45 per cent”, though without offering documentary evidence.
He believed the problem was that “there are too many traffic lights in this town”, and felt the gardai should be on point duty during rush hour.
“Gardaí have a duty to keep traffic moving,” said Boxer, and was one of a number of councillors, along with Cllr McFadden and Cllr Henson, who pointed out how well the traffic flowed under such supervision while the recent fatal accident on Custume Place was being dealt with.
The road works on the 9-kilometre section of the N6 Athlone relief road started in January and are expected to go on until October, after it was originally projected to finish in June.
The €7 million project will see new overlay, median strip, safety barriers, road markings, road studs, ducting, drainage and verge reinstatement installed or constructed in 11 phases.
The congestion in Athlone has been caused by the increase in local traffic refusing to use the restricted flow on the N6 in the mistaken belief that the old route would be quicker.
However, with car ownership doubling in Ireland in the 20 years since the bypass was first opened from 900,000 to 1.85 million cars, the town unsurprisingly hits traffic saturation twice as quick.
“As anticipated, the works have caused traffic delays and inconvenience to road users [but] these delays are considered reasonable and expected,” said council engineer Michael Kelly.
“Delays are only 15 or 20 minutes. These are being logged and monitored,” he added.
However, he did concede that delays got substantially greater during the two occasions when truck accidents closed the relief road.