Footbridge plan clears first of many hurdles

The plan to build a new pedestrian bridge from the Left Bank to the Strand got a step closer this week after the town council adopted a plan for the improvement and upgrading of the town’s waterfront.

However, industry experts believe it could easily be another 15 or 20 years before any such structure could be finished, and its cost could run into millions.

The adoption of this plan will now allow the Executive to begin costing the bridge and other features mooted in the study, including the demolition of the derelict OPW sheds on the quays between the lock and the town bridge, but no indication of a timeline was given at this month’s neeting on Monday evening.

The draft plan for the development of Athlone’s entire waterfront was begun in 2009 and first presented to the council in April 2010.

The plan included developing an ecology centre and walkway through the Golden Mile in Renelagh, building a boardwalk, converting the Strand car park into a covered civic space, revamping the boat club, as well as the shed demolition and new bridge mentioned earlier.

Accepting the parlous state of the public coffers these days, Cllr ‘Boxer’ Moran was curious as to what might be the first part of the plan the council could work on, and suggested the cleaning of the riverside steps at Burgess Park and the provision of a launch site for small boats.

Cllr Mark Cooney warned the meeting that even if the plan was adopted: “It can never be taken as a given that this bridge will be built”.

Director of services, Barry Kehoe was slightly more optimistic, pointing out: “It will only become possible if the plan is adopted”.

However, he did give indication as to the potential lengthiness of the plan, saying that before anything is started, each of the waterside projects as listed above must first be costed, then prioritised, before the slog of fund-sourcing begins.

Mr Kehoe also pointed out that engineering, architectural, visual and navigational concerns will all have to be addressed before any bridge could be built. Also, any such development will still require to come back before the council for Part 8 permission, where a council gives itself the go-ahead.

The famous bouncing Millennium footbridge across the Thames cost €20 million in 2000. In Dublin, the Calatrava-designed bridges of James Joyce (2003 ) at Macken Street and Samuel Beckett at Bow Street cost €8.8 million and €60 million respectively. However, they both were built to take motor traffic, and the latter swivels to allow shipping past.

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