After years of planning Westmeath County Council executive have finally confirmed plans for the proposed new pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Shannon.
The bridge is to become a vital part of the new Dublin-Galway cycleway which is currently at the Mullingar to Garrycastle construction stage.
Speaking at Monday’s Athlone Municipal District meeting, director of services, Barry Kehoe, explained that the cycleway bridge will cross the Shannon at the Luan Gallery and the Radisson Blu Hotel.
This is the preferred route that the council will now submit to An Bord Pleanála for approval through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS ) which will include public consultation.
This will be the first new crossing of the river within the town centre since the railway bridge was built in 1850 and is hugely significant in terms of its value to the people who inhabit and visit the town, explained Mr Kehoe.
A report from Athlone Municipal District highlighted the difficulties faced in deciding on a location for the new bridge, due to issues of navigation, impact on important structures, traffic conflict, safety, utility as a cycleway, and the need to ensure that the project would have the most positive impact possible within the town.
The council had made previous submissions on bridge locations that have been rejected for various reasons.
The preferred crossing is immediately north of the Luan Gallery, crossing at right angles to a point in front of the Radisson Blu. From here the cycleway will travel in front of the hotel to the marina and along the marina access to Abbey Road. The route to the railway line has not yet been determined, but this will be resolved over the coming weeks.
Providing the bridge at this location will impact on the current layout of the marina, but it is expected that the marina can be remodeled.
Speaking after the presentation, Mayor of Athlone, Frankie Keena complimented the executive on their decision. “It’s an extremely attractive bridge. I can see the benefit of this location, linking it to the Luan Gallery and keeping it away from the railway bridge which is the only protected structure of national importance in the county.”
“I’d like to congratulate Barry Kehoe,” added Cllr ‘Boxer’ Moran. “It looks better than other options. But it does have a serious impact on the marina. Are we confining ourselves so we can’t develop the marina?”
Mr Kehoe replied saying that he felt the council could work with the marina to make sure they had enough space.
If the plans get the green light it is hoped to begin construction in the second half of 2015; this might involved the CPO of lands.