Under fire Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister, Shane Ross, travelled to Athlone last Friday to mark the opening of the 2.2km cycleway from Garrycastle to the White Gates.
The project is an extension of the 42km Mullingar to Athlone Greenway officially opened in 2015, which in turn is part of the Dublin to Galway Greenway.
Speaking at the opening, Minister Ross said not only is the Greenway an important extension to the Old Rail Trail, but it is also providing much-needed segregated cycling access to a number of schools and colleges along and near that route that have nearly 3,000 students between them.
“We are seeing many more greenways opening and I am being asked constantly about the possibility of addition funding for greenways,” he said.
“I am pleased to announce that my Department is currently working on a public consultation document that will be published after Easter that will inform our greenways strategy. This strategy will be finalised by the end of the year and I expect to be announcing a new competitive round of funding later this year.
“Athlone and Westmeath are very much at the centre of things when it comes to greenways – we have the continuation of the Royal Canal Greenway from Mullingar to Ballymahon in Co Longford as well as the Old Rail Trail and we are working on completing the sections in Kildare and Meath so that by 2018 it will be possible to cycle from Dublin to Athlone almost entirely off-road.
“Our ambition is to complete the Greenway all the way to Galway and I hope that those who are currently opposed to greenways see the benefits to the entire community that the Old Rail Trail has brought to those in County Westmeath, and realise the benefits that could accrue to Galway and Roscommon.”
Not everything went to plan during the visit as the Minister was confronted by angry Bus Éireann workers who turned their backs on the Minister and his Independent Alliance colleague, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran.
While expressing his sympathy towards the plight of the workers, Minister Ross again reiterated his intention to stay out of the dispute.