Special meeting called as Church Street set to close from next week

As Church Street prepares for up to six weeks of traffic disruption, a special council meeting is to be held on Monday to discuss rising levels of frustration with the progress of the Athlone Watermains Rehabilitation Project.

Local business owners are frustrated at the length of time the project is taking, delays in reinstating roads after works, and the fact that the town’s main thoroughfare is being dug up at the height of the tourist season, according to Cllr Aengus O’Rourke.

“TriAthlone is only weeks away which will see the influx of thousands of people to Athlone, and we are looking at the closure of our main thoroughfare. We were assured these peak times would be avoided,” he said.

Councillors will be briefed at Monday’s 3pm meeting by council engineers on how the project is progressing.

Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran says that traders are not being given proper notice of works.

“The big issue for traders, shopkeepers, and taxi drivers is that if Church Street is closing they might not need as many staff those days... There is so much uncertainty; if we have an outline at least we can let people know.”

Several local business people have expressed frustration that Church Street will be disrupted for the duration of the peak tourist season, and for one of Athlone’s largest events, the triAthlone on Saturday July 5.

“They were meant to start three or four weeks ago on Church Street, and we had emailed our guests, but then we weren’t informed that it wasn’t starting,” said general manager of the Prince of Wales Hotel, Padraic Whelan.

“The council only gave us four days notice this time - we were only notified [on Monday] that Church Street will be closing for six weeks from next Monday.”

However the council’s engineer Graham Nevin said there had been “no shortage of communication” about the schedule of works.

“We had a sequence of public information meetings before the contract started. In terms of notice, we didn’t know exactly when we would be in Church Street. A fortnight ago we posted details on the council website that we were going into Church Street, so there was three weeks notice.

“There were delays in Northgate Street due to archaeology, as we discovered part of the town wall. We went to a lot of trouble to avoid doing damage, and this took a bit of time.

“When we were moving on to Church Street we were aware of the complexity of the existing services. We asked the contractor to carry out a number of investigations, and he came up with an alternative design for Church Street. We were not sitting back twiddling our thumbs hoping to disrupt business; there are 24km of pipes and you never know what you will find.

“We will ensure there is always suitable access to businesses,” he added.

The Church Street works are expected to take approximately six weeks. The first phase, to start next week, will see Church Street closed between Custume Place and the Prince of Wales Hotel, with local access available and detours via Strand Street.

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