IT might have taken nearly 50 years to finally get there, but last Friday, the Portlaoise Southern Circular Route extension was officially opened.
The new 50km speed-limit route goes from the Timahoe Road to the Abbeyleix Road. It can also be accessed from the Stradbally Road and Mountmellick Road on the N80, thus by-passing the centre of Portlaoise.
During the official opening ceremony, Willie Aird, cathaoirleach of Laois County Council, said that the extension was just one of the major projects the local authority has delivered to Portlaoise over the years. He recalled work beginning on the construction of James Fintan Lalor Avenue in 1972 and a year earlier talks about providing a circular route in the town.
He told the assembled guests that it was a privilege to have the honour of assisting at the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon.
He acknowledged the frustration that local residents and businesses had to endure during the construction stage of the project and was appreciative of their patience.
However, he described the extension as “a win-win for everybody”, with the certainty of increased traffic travelling past those businesses.
Cathaoirleach Aird said: “I hope we can change the system for those that will use this road. I hope we’ll see more and more people walking it as well as cycling along it to school in the mornings. Most of all, I wish for the safety of all who use this road. As the old Irish saying goes, ‘may the road rise to meet you’.”
Minister for justice Charlie Flanagan, whose birthday coincided with the official opening, had the honour of cutting the tape.
He stated that the road would have significant socio-economic benefits for Portlaoise. He also said that it has opened up areas of the town for further development as well as pointing to a new courthouse planned at a site just off the route. Minister Flanagan said that air quality would also improve in the town centre due to some vehicles taking the new route.
He thanked all who were involved in the various planning and construction stages of the 550-metre single carriageway.
These included locally-based project designers Kilgallen and Partners Consulting Engineers. The resident engineering services were provided by Laois County Council and its resident engineer Donnacha Reynolds, senior engineer Adrian Barrett and senior executive engineer Farhan Nasiem, who “warranted particular mention for the dedication and attention to detail that they brought to the scheme”.
Sandra Sutherland and Georgina Ireland were also acknowledged for their role in the project. The principal contractor on the project was Kilkenny-based Total Highway Maintenance (THM) Ltd.
Laois County Council chief executive John Mulholland also thanked those involved in the construction of the road and said that final touches such as a natural wildlife flower garden as well as an art piece will be installed along the route shortly.
He said he wanted to “acknowledge the patience and forbearance of the people and businesses on Abbeyleix Road and New Road, particularly the businesses along the New Road. I also want to thank the workers with THM, who worked many long days and sometimes late into the dark night”.
Newly-appointed director of services Simon Walton said: “While the periodic inconvenience caused by the works is regretful, the enhancements to the road network in Portlaoise will be permanent. I thank all those involved in designing, building and finishing the road, with a particular mention for the many local residents, landowners business owners and local commuters, whose perseverance, support and patience must be acknowledged.”
There is also a new spur road off the extension route, which runs from the roundabout at Portlaoise Retail Centre at Kylekiproe to James Fintan Lalor Avenue via county hall.
Work on the project began in June 2018 and the opening of the new road had initially been planned for July. That deadline was missed and a new date was set for 9 October. That, too, had to be deferred until last Friday morning.
The project was fully funded by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the total cost, which included land acquisitions, amounted to an estimated €7 million.
Canon Peter Tarleton and Mgr John Byrne performed a blessing of the new route.