Councillors were shocked to hear that the preferred cycle route through Athlone which was put to the public in December has come back to them dramatically changed.
The controversial new plan sees a change in the preferred route of the cycleway which is part of a national initiative which will see the cycle route bring users from Dublin to Galway, travelling through Athlone.
The new route, if given the green light by An Bord Pleanala will see a cycleway attached to the Athlone town bridge, something which the majority of councillors at Monday’s town council meeting were furious about. The original preferred route would have seen a bridge built close to the White Bridge instead. According to the executive the change of route will see a 30 per cent saving, coming in at €4.3m instead of the original €6.5m estimate.
The new route would bring users through the busy Custume Place area of the town, using a bridge attached to the south of the town bridge to cross the Shannon. As the route would come under the railway bridge at Montree/Abbey Road, a shuttle system would need to be put in place as well.
Six submissions were received following a period of public display, but only one of these concerned the positioning of the bridge.
Mayor of Athlone Gab McFadden was first to voice her concerns saying she didn’t believe a new bridge nearer the boat club would be intrusive. Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran added that the new route, which would bring users right into the heart of Athlone to use the town bridge, would cause a bottleneck. “Just because this new route is €2m cheaper doesn’t mean it’s right. I’m not in favour of this,” he said.
“This is a route for life,” added Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, “Penny pinching will impact on quality.
“This cycleway needs to be easy to use, I don’t see how a shuttle bus will make things easy,” he added.
Cllr Sheila Buckley Byrne commented on the dramatic change of plan: “In 12 weeks the submission has changed, this is a whole new drawing. I can’t understand what happened,” she said.
Cllr Alan Shaw was the only one to vocally agree with the new bridge location. “I had reservations abut the original preferred route, it would have obstructed views of the iconic railway bridge,” he said. Cllr Moran was quick to point out that the River Liffey has a variety of bridges crossing it, all of which work well together.
Director of services Barry Kehoe was quick to assure councillors that the new route was not decided upon for money-saving reasons. “This is a fast-moving project. If we feel there’s a better option we will tell you about it,” he explained.
“We feel it would be difficult to justify the bridge at the White Bridge. People want to go to the centre of the town... soak up the atmosphere... It will be safe and built to the right standards. Money isn’t critical here,” he said.
The next stage of the plan will see an Environmental Impact Study being carried out.