In 1976 Fearon and Associates carried out a traffic study of Athy following which they recommended that the local Council construct an inner relief road “ as a short term measure” which they suggested “should be put in hand in 1976”. At the same time a Southern bypass was recommended as a long term measure and the Council accepted both recommendations. The inner relief road project is now sufficiently long in the planning to qualify for inclusion in “Eye on the Past” and so this week I am taking a look at what has happened since Athy Council agreed to proceed with the building of a new road.
I cannot write with any authority on what happened between 1976 and the end of 1985 as my research has not uncovered anything of note. However the County Manager was moved to advise the Urban Council in December 1985 that “the building of the inner relief road will commence in 1986”.
In the face of mounting concerns expressed by Councillors newly elected in June 1985 the County Manager brought forward an agreement whereby Athy Urban District Council assigned responsibility for the design and construction of the inner relief road to Kildare County Council. This served to silence further debate on the issue in the local Council chamber. However the concerns which surfaced in 1985 eventually turned to opposition to the Inner Relief Road as many who were previously unaware of what was proposed became familiar with the issue.
In September 1998, Athy Urban Development Group was formed, to oppose the Inner Relief Road and to seek support for a local plebiscite on the issue. Soon thereafter at a meeting in the Town Hall hosted by Athy Chambers of Commerce, Council officials advised those in attendance “you will be driving on the new road within 5 years”.
On the 30th March, 1999 petitions collected by members of Athy Urban Development Group were handed into Athy Urban District Council. The petitions urged the Council to hold a plebiscite of the local electors on the proposed Inner Relief Road. When the plebiscite motion eventually came before a meeting of the Urban District Council it was defeated by 5 votes to 4.
Prior to the local elections of June 1999 Council officials brought forward the review of the town development plan hoping to have it adopted before the elections were held. The development plan included as an objective the construction of the Inner Relief road, and the officials knew if a newly elected Council removed that objective, the Inner Relief Road could not proceed. The concern of the Council officials was such that after the polling day when some outgoing Councillors had lost their Council seats, a meeting of the outgoing Council was nevertheless called to adopt the town development plan. Following an application to the High Court an Order was obtained prohibiting the outgoing Council from adopting the development plan.
The future of the Inner Relief road was now in jeopardy as the majority of the Councillors elected in June 1999 canvassed support on the basis of their opposition to the Inner Relief road and supported the call for a plebiscite. When the new Council met to consider the plebiscite motion it transpired that one of the newly elected Councillors reneged on his committment to support the motion and consequently it was lost by one vote. A subsequent meeting of Athy Urban District Council adopted the town development plan, retaining as an objective the building of an Inner Relief road. Prior to voting Councillors were advised by the Deputy County Manager that “money for the building of the road is now available”.
In November 1999 the road design team of Kildare County Council made a presentation to local Councillors in the course of which it was claimed that an outer relief road would remove only 15% of through traffic from the town. This tended to support the claim that providing an outer relief road would not ease Athy’s traffic problems. The Councillors were also advised that work on the Inner Relief road would commence in “12 to 18 months time”.
On the 21st June 2000 a Senior Council official advised the Town Councillors that compulsory purchase orders, to acquire land for the road would issue in Spring 2001 and would, hopefully, be confirmed in September 2001. He further stated that work on the road would commence in Spring 2002, that the construction of a new bridge over the Barrow would take approximately one year and that the entire road project should be completed in the Spring of 2003.
On the 8th September 2000, the Town Clerk wrote at the request of the local Councillors to the same Senior Official seeking “formal written confirmation of the availability of funding for the Inner Relief road”. There is no record of any response to that letter. On the 10th July, 2002 the Town Clerk in a report to the Council members advised “the results of a further traffic study show that the ratio between through traffic (approximately 40%) and traffic that has it’s origin/destination in the town (approximately 60%) remains approximately the same as in previous traffic studies (Contrast that with the information supplied by the Road Design team in November 1999).
In April 2003 O’Sullivan & Co. prepared a preliminary design report on the Relief road which had been commissioned in July 2001. O’Sullivan’s were the fourth set of consultants to be engaged on this project following on the heels of Fearon & Co., Ace McCarthy & Co. and Shaffrey & Co. The report indicated that the construction contract for the Inner Relief road was to go to tender between August and December 2003.
On the 15th January, 2004 the local Chamber of Commerce met with officials of Kildare County Council following which a press report was carried in last weeks local papers. The President of the Chamber expressed himself confident that work on the Inner Relief street which would commence “by the end of this year”. Nowhere was there any reference to the Council Officials announcement at the same meeting that there was no money available for the Inner Relief road which is now estimated will cost €20 million.
That’s some of the history of the tormented Inner Relief road. On Monday the 2nd February a meeting organised by Athy Development Group will be held in the Dominican Hall at 8 p.m. to consider how best to approach the traffic issues facing our town and to chart a way forward. The meeting is open to the Public.