Senator Michelle Mulherin has called on Transport Minister Shane Ross to fund a major road scheme between Ballina and Castlebar and not waste the €10 million that has been spent since 2010 seeking a solution to the environmental issues that have blocked roads development in the area to date.
Senator Mulherin challenged Minister Ross to endorse and prioritise the proposed N26/N59/N5 Road Scheme in light of environmental issues having being addressed at Cloongullane, resulting in planning permission for a new bridge over the River Moy.
She said: "Now that we know it can be done after the serious setbacks experienced previously, owing to the area being designated as a Special Area of Conservation, efforts have to be redoubled to bring proper much-needed national roads infrastructure into North and East Mayo.
"We overcame the difficulties at Cloongullane bridge because I went to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and secured resources to sort out environmental concerns on this small section of road relating to alluvial woodlands and the freshwater pearl mussel.
"Those hurdles were overcome, which shows that it can be done. The significance of and need for this road are as clear as ever. A total of €5 million was spent up to 2010 before An Bord Pleanála refused stage 2 of the N26 road project.
"A further €5 million has been spent to date, but there is only planning permission for one section of the N26. It is clear that there is a problem, but the need for progress is greater than ever. The Minister should meet the significant stakeholders who cannot understand why there is not more emphasis on and priority given to the construction of this road."
The proposed N26/N58/N5 Road Scheme providing north-south, east-west connectivity to Ballina, Crossmolina, Foxford, Swinford and to facilitate traffic from Erris and Belmullet in west Mayo that comes through Ballina also needs to be endorsed and prioritsed, Senator Mulherin told Minister Ross. Senator Mulherin pointed out that traffic counts show that the N26-N58-N5 joining Ballina to Castlebar is the busiest road in Mayo with people travelling to work and in particular to the 12 foreign direct investment (FDI ) companies in Mayo, which employ approximately 4,800 people.
"Actually over half of the companies are based in Ballina and north Mayo. Coca-Cola and Hollister are just two of the major companies based in Ballina. Also there is traffic to the freight yard in a Ballina and many people travel from North of the county to Castlebar for hospital appointments and to attend college in GMIT.
"The N26-N58-N5 is not up to standard. The N58, a considerable stretch of road from Foxford to Ballyvary, has now been reduced to a speed limit of 80 km/h because of road safety concerns. Equally, there are problems on the N26 to Foxford and Swinford. There are plans for the N5, but I would like to have them linked into the N26-N58 road network.
"The project is a priority for multinational companies in the area. I have spoken to representatives of such companies and know that they would be happy to meet the Minister. They are trying to maintain their position and grow jobs, but they need infrastructure in order to so do. The project is also a priority for Ballina Chamber of Commerce.
"I ask that the project be looked at with fresh eyes and impetus and that the Minister prioritise it and speak to Transport Infrastructure Ireland about the case I have set out. The Minister should meet the significant stakeholders who cannot understand why there is not more emphasis on and priority given to the construction of this road."