Could National Development Plan mean the end of the Galway City Ring Road?

Sharply different views emerge as to how the new NDP will impact on the controversial motorway

The future likelihood, and viability, of the controversial N6 Galway City Ring Road may be in serious doubt following publication of the revised National Development Plan and its new environmental targets and climate orientated analysis for future infrastructure.

Under the plan, which was published on Monday, Galway is set for major infrastructural development, wotj most fociussed on sustainable and public transport. Local commuter rail services in Galway are set to be given a major boost. There will also be major investment in cycling infrastructure, several urban regeneration projects, and the confirmation of a new elective hospital in Galway. Also, a light rail service for the city is also set to be given consideration.

The Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Fine Gael Galway West TD, Hildegarde Naughton, called city "a blueprint for the infrastructural transformation of Galway over the next decade. She said the plan will see Galway city and county “benefit from an accessible, efficient, safe, and sustainable transport system that supports communities, households, and businesses in every part of the county, urban and rural.”

While the controversial N6 Galway City Ring Road is included in the NDP, subject to planning permission, differing views have emerged on how the plan could affect the road, with at least one Galway Oireachtas member saying it was now difficult to see it “getting over the line”.

Transforming the city 

Minister Naughton [pictured below] said the NDP “not only provides a vision for the future of Galway, but it also outlines a detailed strategy for how it is going to be achieved”.

Healthcare services across Galway are set to be transformed with confirmation in the NDP of the new emergency department at University Hospital Galway.

Major investment has also been confirmed for cancer services in Galway, with the expansion and improvement of medical oncology units and day wards, as well as upgrades in diagnostic facilities. A cancer care network for the Saolta region (West, North West ) with a Cancer Centre at GUH, with appropriate infrastructure, will also be delivered.

Galway Courthouse will undergo refurbishment under the capital spending plan; the city’s wastewater network and treatment plant will also get an upgrade; and the new learning commons at NUI Galway has been confirmed, along with a library regeneration project at the university, and the provision of new student accommodation.

Urban regeneration projects supported under the URDF include the development of a new civic space in Woodquay, enhancement works at the Spanish Arch, the creation of a new waterfront space at Cathedral Plaza.

Galway Courthouse will undergo refurbishment under the capital spending plan; the city’s wastewater network and treatment plant will also get an upgrade; and the new learning commons at NUI Galway has been confirmed, along with a library regeneration project at the university, and the provision of new student accommodation.

Urban regeneration projects supported under the URDF include the development of a new civic space in Woodquay, enhancement works at the Spanish Arch, the creation of a new waterfront space at Cathedral Plaza.

Cycling and sustainable transport also received a boost with confirmation that the Galway to Dublin Greenway will be completed within five years, and a new pedestrian bridge as part of the Clifden Railway Cycle will also be supported under the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund.

Light Rail to be considered

GLUAS Very Light Rail

The significant Galway works under the NDP will be improvements to Ceannt Station and “placing it at the heart of sustainable transport-led development” in Galway; significant track and station works for Oranmore to Athenry; and additional rail connectivity and expansion of existing rail services.

The plan also envisages the delivery of the BusConnects programme 2030, the National Transport Authority’s programme to improve bus services and address climate change through changing to a zero emissions fleet.

Under the plan, Galway should also be in line for new cycling infrastructure, while the feasibility of light rail in the city will be considered as part of the review of the Galway Transport Strategy, due to start in 2022.

The GLUAS Committee, which is campaigning for a Very Light Rail ystem for Galway city, has called the consideration for VLR in the NDP, as part of the Galway Transport Study, “a huge step forward in our campaign” and a “major contribution to achieving carbon reduction and clean healthy air in our city”.

The committee said that it is looking “forward to engaging with the relevant parties” who will draw up the terms of reference for the VLR consideration.

“Ten years ago we made a very comprehensive submission into the MVA Transport study in which we were completely ignored,” the group said in the statement to the Galway Advertiser. “People must now sit in traffic for hours on end, because there is no other choice. Had we being listened to, it would have been so much easier to implement a tram system then, but it is never too late to do the right thing.”

The end of the ring road?

Roads could prove to be the most controversial aspect of the National Development Plan. Depending on which politician is analysing the plan, different conclusions are being drawn about roadways, particularly the future of the ring road.

According to the Minister Naughton, Galway will see “continued investment in regional connectivity” through maintenance, upgrades, and delivery of new regional and local road projects including the N59 Moycullen bypass, which is expected to begin construction in the coming months and be completed by 2024, and the N6 Galway City Ring Road, which is subject to planning approval from An Bord Pleanála.

“The maintenance and renewal of our existing road network in Galway remains a priority for my Department,” she said, “which is of critical importance to ensure the safety of all road users – pedestrians, cyclists, private cars, and public transport alike. These projects will be delivered progressively and deliver benefits steadily over the next decade.”

However a Government colleague has cast doubt on whether the +€600 million ring road will actually ever begin construction.

Green senator Pauline O’Reilly [pictured above] said the NDP is a “reorientation of spending on transport”, and that planned spending in the future is to “maintain existing roads”, and not roads planned to be built.

“For the first time there is no commitment to build new roads,” she said. “Roads, including the Galway City Ring Road, now have a hefty new list of hoops to jump through, and personally I just do not see many getting over the line.”

The ring road was first proposed more than 20 years ago, and in that time it has been subject to a number of redesigns after being refused planning permission on design and environmental grounds.

The proposed road will run for 12km via motorway, dual carriageway, and single carriageway, including a new bridge over the River Corrib, stretching from the existing N6 at Coolagh to the east, to just beyond Barna, to the west.

While it has been put forward by many as a solution to Galway’s traffic problems, many others point to the fact that the more roads that are built, the more cars there are to fill them. This is known as ‘Induced demand’, the idea that increasing roadway capacity encourages more people to drive, and as a result fails to decrease traffic levels.

As the former environment correspondent at The Irish Times, Frank McDonald, has said, such roadways are "locked into outdated 1970s thinking about transport planning – particularly the utterly discredited idea that you can solve traffic congestion by throwing more roads at it”.

As Sen O’Reilly has pointed out, the NDP will see a change to the Public Spending Code to assess emissions of all new projects, and all projects will be prioritised against the Climate Action Plan. This could mean that, if the ring road is considered to potentially increase traffic and emissions, then it could fall foul of these new objectives.

Furthermore, the NDP focusses on a spending ratio of two to one on cycling and walking over roads. A planning decision on the ring road was recently deferred for the third time this year by An Bord Pleanála. A decision is now scheduled for November 19.

Interestingly, the existing Galway Transport Plan admits that at very best, if all park and rides, bus traffic management plans, and the Galway City Ring Road were made reality, the likelihood is that were would still be only an eight per cent conversion from car to public transport.

“With a 50 per cent increase in Galway's population by 2040, the plan will be redundant by then,” said the GLUAS committe. “However case study after case study, and practical implementation of light and Very light Rail in cities all over the world shows a minimum 20 per cent conversion can be achieved.”

No plan for Western Rail Corridor

While the fate of the ring road will occupy the minds of many in the west of the county, in east Galway, there was frustration that the plan did not include a reopening of the Western Rail Corridor. Galway East Sinn Féin representative, Louis O’Hara [pictured above], said this was “ deeply disappointing” from the points of view of travel, sustainability, and economics.

“The benefits of reopening the rail line are clearly set out in Dr John Bradley’s report published earlier this year, which found that there is a ‘strong business case’ for the reopening of the line,” he said.

He pointed out that reopening of the line would have assisted in reducing traffic, and therefore emissions.

“It is obvious that the all-island rail review is being used as an excuse to kick the can down the road and delay making a decision on the future of the rail line,” he said. “Today’s announcement demonstrates clearly that this Government has no plan or ambition to develop the west of Ireland.”

 

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