Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Road Projects

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who is, as ever, a faithful attender of the Seanad.

I welcome my colleague from Cork to the Chamber and acknowledge his presence. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle suggested, he has been in this Chamber many times.

I wish to raise the issue of the N71 and its status among the national priorities. The road is a major artery going into west Cork. It starts at Bishopstown and goes all the way to Bandon, Clonakilty, Bantry and Glengarriff, and then on to Kerry. It is an amazing road that is 180 km long. It has fantastic potential. If it were upgraded, it would open up west Cork and the west Cork community for more activity, be it in agriculture, fishing or otherwise. All such activities depend on having a good road network.

About 25 years ago, when I was a child, the N71 was upgraded from the Halfway roundabout at Ballinhassig and on into Bishopstown. That was the last really significant upgrade. A large section was taken out and a new, complete motorway was built. We need a coherent plan. We need to consider how we are going to develop and sustain the road. We also need to consider how the towns and villages along the road can thrive. What we are looking for is a coherent plan covering a period of several years. It would involve infrastructure such as cycle lanes and address the need for bus lanes in some areas, hopefully around towns and villages. What is really needed is a master plan. We need to regard the N71 area as one requiring special attention. That means a master plan for the next decade, to consider the 180 km and more route and the question of how to develop the area. The potential is amazing, including for tourism. Part of the road is on the Wild Atlantic Way. Whether it is for those involved in agriculture or the commuter travelling to and from Cork or another destination, there is really significant potential.

The N71 is currently designated as a national secondary road. It is not on the list as a national primary road. Addressing that is probably the first step. We need to have the road designated as a national primary road. When that is done, we should put a master plan in place for the 180 km. Then we should carry out a series of works and inform and work with the community in order that we can deliver on those works. This is probably one of the key issues for the entire west Cork region. If we can deliver and ensure the development of the road, it will mean a major change for the entire region. It has such potential. We just need to put a master plan in place to deliver what is basically a no-brainer for Cork. Addressing this will be one of the key issues in ensuring the survival of rural Ireland.

I thank Senator Lombard for raising this important issue this morning and for his work and interest in this area. I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who cannot be here. He has responsibility for overall policy and funding in regard to the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and upgrading of individual national roads are a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework for Tll's national roads programme for the period 2018 to 2027. In the ten years covered by the plan, over €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network. The Minister, Deputy Ross, welcomes this opportunity to clarify that the N71 does not go to Castletownbere but to Glengarriff, where one takes the R572 to complete the route to Castletownbere.

In the context of the national roads programme's capital budget, provided by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to TII, significant funding has been provided towards the improvement of the N71 since 1994, amounting to more than €60 million in County Cork to date.

This includes works such as major improvement schemes such as Skibbereen and Bandon bypasses; pavement and minor scheme improvements; safety schemes; and planning and design for upcoming schemes.

TIl has provided the Department of Transport, Tourism, and Sport with the following list of schemes that are relevant to the route as well as a brief commentary on their current status in terms of progress.

I now refer to the major schemes. For the Innishannon bypass, the route feasibility study was previously commenced but has since been suspended. As this scheme is not in the NDP, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has been advised by Tll that the project remains suspended at this point in time. For the Bantry bypass, a feasibility study was completed by Cork County Council. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport understands that Tll has been in discussions with officials in Cork County Council and that further up-dates from the council are awaited.

On the 2019 minor works allocations, TII has informed the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport that with regard to the N71 Newmills-Owenahincha scheme Tll await progress by Cork County Council on the issue of compulsory purchase orders, CPO, and once completed, Tll expects to be in a position to allow the scheme to progress through the statutory process. On the Bandon bypass extension, a feasibility study was completed by Cork County Council. A scheme project appraisal plan, PAP, has also been prepared and submitted to Tll. Currently the N71 relief road around Bandon ties back into the existing road network via a very steep downhill gradient. Traffic also needs to negotiate a number of roundabouts and priority junctions within the built up area of Bandon. The N71 in this area is quite heavily trafficked with an annual average daily traffic, AADT, of between 9,000 and 14,000 vehicles and a heavy goods vehicles, HGV, percentage of up to 5%. The proposed relief road extension would involve bridging over the R603 to remove the existing steep gradient and construction of approximately 2.5 km of new single carriageway tying back into the existing N71 just to the west of the town.

The following are examples of pavement schemes which have been completed in 2019, or are ongoing: Leap to Dromihilly; Canrooska; Derry; Seafiels to Knockroe; Lissalane to Gallanes; Rossnagoose to Newcourt; and Toreen to Rigsdale.

On safety schemes, Tll has provided the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport with an update on the current status of safety schemes on the route, such as the Innishannon pedestrian crossing and the Bandon pedestrian crossing which were recently completed; the Rosscarbery pedestrian crossing and Gaggin Junction which are in progress; the Ballinvoultig safety improvements are ongoing; and in the Bantry west approach, the Bantry north approach, Leap footpath and Glengarriff footpath feasibility reports are underway. The Minister for Transport very much welcomes all of these improvements.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. The information he gave is important and shows the activity on the N71. However, the real issue is that it is piecemeal. There is a project here and a project there, a bypass is proposed for Bandon which is slowly going through a process which will be welcome, but there is no overall plan for the 180 km. What the Minister of State outlined for the N71 is fantastic but we need to look at this in the context of a road from Bishopstown all the way to Glengariff, which is what we seek. The communities want this road developed. They want cycle lanes and to know where the bus corridor will be. There is so much they need to know. It is being done piecemeal where a co-ordinated approach is needed to tie all this together in a ten or 15 year plan for delivery. Great work is happening every 18 months but we do not know what will happen in the next 18 months. There needs to be a longer timeframe and a coherent plan needs to be put in place for the next decade.

I appreciate the Senator's passion and interest in this project, which is to be commended. However, the national development plan identifies two categories of national road improvement projects. The first covers projects to advance the construction subject to the satisfactory outcome of the project appraisal and development consent approval processes. The second relates to projects with pre-appraisal at early planning stage which are being assessed with a view to developing a pipeline of suitable projects for development. All this is subject to planning and funding. Overall TII considers that taking steady-state and public private partnership convention into account that indicative NDP budget would allow projects in the first category to progress in a pipeline of projects taken through early planning. It would not be possible to take all the pipeline projects through to the development consent process on to construction in the timeframe of the NDP. Advancing projects for the second pipeline will, therefore, be subject to prioritisation within the overall national road programme and funding. This will apply to any development, including any future plans to further develop and upgrade the N71.

Sitting suspended at 10.45 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.