I am joined by Mr. Jim Cullen, director of service, infrastructure and operations, and Mr. Michael Timmins, director of service, planning and environment. I am conscious of the number of people who are due to contribute and, therefore, I will not read through the document that has been circulated.
I will, however, touch on a number of key points.
Something worth emphasising is the fact that Galway city and county work together in addressing transportation issues in Galway city and its environs by means of a number of section 85 agreements, whereby one or other of the two local authorities takes the lead on different parts of the process to avoid duplication and ensure close collaboration. That collaboration extends to our relationship with the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, which has been robust and beneficial for some time.
I wish to address the part of the overall solution that is being led by Galway County Council, namely, the Galway city ring road. The Galway transport strategy, GTS, included an evaluation of transport options for all modes of transport and affirmed the strategic need for an orbital route around Galway city to achieve the level of service required for each mode of transport, including walking, cycling, public transport and private vehicles.
The ring road proposal is effectively 5.6 km of single carriageway and 11.9 km of dual carriageway with associated road junctions and structures, including a new bridge crossing the River Corrib. Mr. McGrath has outlined some of the constraints on delivering a solution, including Galway Bay to the south, the River Corrib, which divides the city, and a number of sites protected by the habitats directive, for example, the Lough Corrib candidate special area of conservation, SAC, and the Moycullen bogs complex candidate SAC. From the outset, and given the linear nature of the city and the limited available space between Lough Corrib and the built-up area, the environmental constraints needed to be balanced against impacts on residential, commercial and institutional property. It is worth noting that the project's study area covered a total of 63 sq. km. As such, an extensive area was considered when devising a solution.
The proposal for a ring road in Galway has been supported in policy documents from national to local level, including the Galway city and county development plans, the regional planning guidelines, the national spatial strategy and the draft national planning framework. I will not outline the issues that have arisen that necessitate the requirement for an overall transport solution, as they have been well rehearsed by now and are well understood, and it is agreed that they need urgent attention.
In terms of options identification and assessment, a preferred option was developed in accordance with national and international design standards and the relevant regulatory and statutory requirements and guidelines. Alternatives were comprehensively appraised in accordance with the Department's framework for transport projects and programmes and TII's project appraisal guidelines. These alternatives included every sort of scenario from doing nothing to doing the minimum, from on-line upgrades to off-line upgrades, public transport options, etc. There was extensive consultation with the public during the options identification stage, with more than 1,400 people attending a series of four open days in January and February of 2015 and 994 submissions received during that part of the process.
My submission to the committee outlines in figure 1 the diagram of the proposed road solution currently being advanced. It is an extensive piece of infrastructure going from the R336 Coast Road to the N59 Galway-Clifden road and on across the N84 Headford Road, the N83 Tuam Road and the Monivea Road and on to meet the N6 at Coolagh junction. Each of those junctions is grade separated, ensuring the greatest flow of traffic across the city as well as in and out of it.
The economic valuation has presented a benefit-cost ratio of strength that is rarely seen in an infrastructural project like this. The business case has been approved by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
Throughout the process of delivering the project, there has been extensive consultation with landowners and stakeholders, with all identified landowners and property owners having been contacted. There have been 1,000 face-to-face meetings with landowners in their homes or in the project office. The council maintains a project website, which has had 43,000 visits to date. Throughout that period, there also have been extensive consultations with An Bord Pleanála and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, particularly on environmental issues. Further consultation is to take place with An Bord Pleanála in the coming period. It is hoped these consultations will be brought to a conclusion shortly.
An extensive amount of work has been done in terms of all aspects of the design and planning of this project. We hope to be in a position to submit the scheme to An Bord Pleanála as early as April. Depending on what happens after that, including whether there are legal challenges and so forth, construction could be expected to be completed by 2024.
There is a compelling need for the proposed road. The mood has changed from wondering whether it is necessary to one of asking us as authorities when it will be done. The chief executive of Galway City Council mentioned the national planning framework. It is pertinent to consider Galway's future in that context without the ring road and the associated other transport initiatives that are under way. It is clear that Galway will not, and cannot, grow without these infrastructural provisions. In the current environment, if Galway cannot grow, it can only regress. The delivery of this transport solution is essential for Galway's future. We have received good support for it to date. My request is that we receive continued strong support across Departments and from the Government itself in terms of advancing the project through the next phases and, in due course, providing funding to have it constructed.