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Topical Issue Debate on need for second bridge in Celbridge – 24th November 2015

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this topic to be taken today. It is ironic that this debate is taking place a day after Kildare County Council decided to scrap a section 38 proposal that would have changed the traffic pattern in Celbridge and that would have had implications for a number of residential estates in the town. The bridge in Celbridge was built after a flood in 1802. It has been in existence as the town has developed over the past 200 years to its current size with a population of almost 20,000. The problem in the town is that there is just one bridge over the River Liffey. This restricts access from one side of the town to the other. It makes it difficult for many people to avail of the very good public transport links that are provided at Hazelhatch railway station. I commend the Minister on today’s announcement of investment in the DART and Luas networks. It is very difficult for public transport operators to get through the village at the moment.

Seven options were set out in a report that was produced for RPS Consultants on behalf of Kildare County Council in June. The option that was favoured by a local Fianna Fáil councillor caused fierce consternation in the town. I am delighted that the public realised what was happening. The proposed route would have gone through the Simmonstown and Hazelhatch Park estates. Traffic would have been diverted onto a road that has a public play area on one side and housing on the other. Kids who wanted to cross that road to get to the area where they normally play would not have had a proper junction or crossing point to use. I thought it was absolutely crazy. I am delighted that as soon as the period of time for public submissions was completed, Kildare County Council made a rapid decision not to go ahead with the section 38 proposal. The proposal in question was one of the options put forward by RPS Consultants when they were asked to suggest ways of improving the traffic flow in Celbridge.

A second bridge is needed in the town of Celbridge. Most of us who have gone through the town of Enniscorthy have seen the helpful one-way flow system there, which uses two bridges in close proximity to each other. A second bridge in the centre of Kilkenny is helping to alleviate the traffic problems associated with the town. I accept that such a venture in Celbridge would cost between €8 million and €10 million. We need to put plans in place now for the development of something like this in the long term. I believe we can bring the public on board with the proposed second bridge if a long-term strategy is put in place. It was proposed to develop a second bridge from Castletown to Donaghcumper, but that was unacceptable because it would have been too close to the gates of historic Castletown House. That made no sense at all. I believe that if we put a plan in place, engage in proper public consultation and get the people on board, we can develop a second bridge in the village of Celbridge, which is wanted to ease the traffic flows that are there at the moment. If there is a better flow of traffic through the town, people will be more likely to use the public transport options that are available in Celbridge, including those provided through CIE and Dublin Bus at the railway station in Hazelhatch. I hope we can start a long-term process that will lead to the construction of a second bridge in Celbridge.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): I thank Deputy Lawlor for raising this matter. As he is aware, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads in County Kildare is the statutory responsibility of Kildare County Council in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Work on such roads is funded from the council’s own resources, supplemented by allocations made directly from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for the council. Ireland has just under 100,000 km of roads in its network. The maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a significant financial burden on local authorities and the Exchequer. Due to the national financial position, there have been large reductions in the amount of Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure over recent years. Funding for the national, regional and local road network was €2.3 billion in 2008, but it is just €760 million this year. In light of the challenging financial climate, the specific improvement grants scheme was curtailed to maximise the funding available for repair and strengthening work. It is important to reiterate that the purpose of Exchequer funding is to supplement the resources of each local authority. I have been emphasising to local authorities the importance of prioritising expenditure on roads when they are allocating their own resources, including local property tax receipts. The capital plan that will run from 2016 to 2021 provides for a gradual build-up in capital funding for the road network towards the levels that are needed to support maintenance and improvement works. The primary focus in the next few years will continue to be on road maintenance and renewal rather than new projects.

I announced the 2015 regional and local road allocations on 3 February last. Some €10.7 million was allocated to Kildare County Council. The council received an additional €799,900 in restoration improvement funding in July of this year. All available funding for this year has now been allocated. I am aware that Kildare County Council has published a document, Feasibility Report for River Crossings of the River Liffey and Associated Traffic Management Requirements in Celbridge, that was prepared for it by RPS Consultants. I believe that is the report to which Deputy Lawlor has referred. I understand that the council commissioned this study to explore river crossing options and traffic management arrangements that could alleviate traffic congestion in Celbridge and that the report identifies short-term traffic management options and a longer-term new river crossing option for further study and evaluation. Local authorities are aware that it is a matter for each council to determine its priorities and to allocate funding accordingly. Therefore, it is a matter for Kildare County Council to decide how best to address the findings of this report and to allocate its own resources to the further evaluation of options if it considers that appropriate.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: The report was welcomed in so far as it put options into the public domain. One of the short-term traffic management options referred to by the Minister was not acceptable because it would have had an impact on local residential housing estates. As I said, the road that would have been used divides houses from areas used by young kids for playing. I can understand why that short-term solution was not deemed to be acceptable. I appreciate that we need to take a long-term view in this regard as the economy improves. I do not envisage that Kildare County Council will be able to afford to put a new bridge in place on its own, but it might be able to do so with the assistance of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I remind the House that the feasibility study was funded by the National Transport Authority. I suggest that if we work jointly on a long-term basis, we might be able to find a solution for the town of Celbridge which is choked by traffic at the moment. People are not able to go from one side of the river to the other because of the traffic volumes going through the town.
The Minister launched various public transport projects today. Public transport has difficulty going through the town. Feeder buses for Hazelhatch railway station also find it difficult to get through the town.

We always try to make the most efficient use of our public transport system, but when it is being choked by the town, it is very difficult. I hope the Minister will consider engaging with Kildare County Council to provide some long-term funding towards this because we have to find a solution for the traffic issues in Celbridge.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I take on board what the Deputy is saying and I acknowledge that there is a congestion problem and an access issue in the community to which he refers. Early next year my Department will allocate funding for local and regional roads for 2016. We would be able to work with the local authority to see if, within the allocation, it would be possible to deal with the matter. I am not in a position to make further funding available for this year but I hope that, as the economy strengthens and the funding available for local and regional roads improves, as is the case with the capital plan for transport which we published a number of weeks ago, it will be possible to do projects such as this. I am aware they are needed and that some of them require further support from local authorities in order for the necessary work to be done.