I thank the Seanad for facilitating the introduction of this Bill, particularly the Leader for changing the Order of Business. I appreciate the co-operation of the House.
This is a short technical Bill to provide for the continued application of Part IV of the Local Government Act 1946 in relation to certain applications for bridge orders which authorise the construction of bridges. The Bill provides that Part IV should continue to apply and be deemed always to have applied to an application for a bridge order made to and being processed by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government prior to the repeal of that Part and to a bridge order made subsequently on foot of such application. Transitional provisions to deal with such cases were not included in the Local Government Act 2001.
On the basis of the advice available, it was considered that an application already made and processed, in respect of which a public inquiry had been held, could be brought to completion and final determination under Part IV. On this basis, a bridge order was made earlier this year in respect of the proposed new Waterford city bridge, to be constructed upstream from the existing city bridge as part of the N25 city bypass. However, subsequent legal advice, obtained in the course of the preparation of the State's defence in a court action concerning navigation rights on the river, raised concerns about the soundness of an order in these circumstances. The aim of the Bill, therefore, is to remedy any deficiency that may apply by providing for the continued application of Part IV in any such transitional case.
The bridge in question will be the fourth to be built over the River Suir at Waterford. Senators may not know that the first bridge, known as Old Timber Toes, was built more than 300 years ago in 1793 by Lemuel Cox. This was replaced in 1913 by Redmond Bridge. The third bridge at the same location, known as Rice Bridge, was opened to traffic in October 1984. The need for a second crossing of the River Suir at Waterford was first recognised in the 1960s and included in the city council's development plan almost 30 years ago in 1974.
The national primary route, N25, connects Cork to the port of Rosslare via Waterford city. The existing route through Waterford city passes along the congested city quays and crosses the River Suir over an opening span bridge, the only bridge crossing for motor traffic in the city. The average daily traffic flow across Rice Bridge is 36,500 vehicles, with weekday flows of more than 40,000 vehicles a regular occurrence. The need for a Waterford city bypass and second river crossing has been identified in the development plans of the three relevant local authorities, Waterford City Council, Waterford County Council and Kilkenny County Council.
The objective of the N25 Waterford city bypass is to provide a bypass of the city for through traffic while also catering for the needs of the city. The planned scheme extends from west of Kilmeaden in County Waterford to east of Slieverue in County Kilkenny. The route crosses the River Suir at Granny, close to the location of the existing N24-N9 junction to the north-west of Waterford city, thus providing Waterford with a second major bridge over the Suir and allowing traffic on the N25 Cork to Rosslare route to bypass the city. Overall, the scheme comprises approximately 23 km of all-purpose dual carriageway and approximately 4 km of single carriageway construction. There is an additional 11 km of side roads and tie-ins. The Suir bridge element, to which the Bill relates, is approximately 475 m in length.
The N25 Waterford city bypass scheme has been developed by Waterford City Council as lead authority. The project management of the scheme has been carried out by the Tramore House regional design office, which carries out design and project management for national road projects in counties in the south-east. The N25 scheme is also consistent with the national spatial strategy published in December 2002. As Senators know, Waterford is one of nine gateways identified in the strategy. Provision of a second River Suir crossing will be an important factor in delivering on a number of the key aims of the strategy for the south-east region.
It should be noted that the N25 Waterford city bypass scheme was also the subject of an environmental impact statement prepared pursuant to the Roads Act 1993, as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000. The EIS was approved by An Bord Pleanála, subject to modifications, last October. The proposed new bridge and the N25 bypass, of which it is a crucial part, are significant not only to Waterford city and county but also to Kilkenny, the south-east region as a whole and far beyond. It is an essential part of our national infrastructure. Senators will, therefore, appreciate the importance that attaches to safeguarding the bridge order by the passage of this Bill.