The ill-fated and much postponed M17/18 Gort to Tuam motorway link of the Atlantic Corridor route looks as if it is back on track, as part of the EU-backed €2 billion stimulus package announced by the Government on Tuesday.
The EU backing means banks will not be over-exposed to loans made to fund the project, making it easier for both the Government and private construction companies to secure the necessary loans.
It is understood that it is because the project was at the “shovel ready” stage when it stalled that it is now first in line for funding, as the Government is anxious to make inroads in the 12,000 jobs target set for the overall stimulus package.
Director of Services for Roads and Transportation with Galway Co Council, Frank Gilmore, admitted to being “cautiously optimistic” that the project will finally get off the ground.
The hope now is that the Public Private Partnership (PPP) process can be re-started and the private company which was the lowest bidder before the project stalled, will still be in a position to take up the contract.
The development has been broadly welcomed by political representatives at national and local level and there is broad agreement that the completion of the Tuam-Gort link and the Tuam bypass would represent a considerable boost to the region and a major economic injection.
The motorway plans have been in place for over a decade and all the land along the route has been acquired, but there were fears when the financial crisis hit that the project would be shelved indefinitely. The private companies lined-up to carry out the construction were understood to be reluctant to invest in a project which depended on a bankrupt country to reimburse them.
It is hoped that with the backing of the European Investment Bank (EIB), the National Pensions Reserve Fund, funding from the sale of State assets and that invested by private companies in the PPP process, major infrastructural projects such as the M17/18 can be jump-started.
“We are optimistic that the project will get the official go-ahead sometime within the next three months. If this is the case, work could begin by the end of the year or in early 2013,” Frank Gilmore said.
It is estimated that the Gort-Tuam connection will take approximately two and a half years to complete, including the long-awaited bypass of Tuam.
€100 million has already been spent on acquiring the land necessary to build the motorway, so securing the funding for the actual construction is the final obstacle now to be overcome.
Frank Gilmore said the completion of the project would have enormous benefits for the Tuam and North Galway region, as it would provide a direct motorway connection with Galway and Dublin. This in turn could be expected to prove very attractive for investors. Access to motorway transport routes, shipping ports and airports are among the main considerations for many companies.
There had been efforts made by Tuam area public representatives for the project to be broken up into three separate parts. The first involved the construction of the Tuam bypass as a stand-alone project. The next phase proposed connecting Tuam to the Dublin–Galway motorway at Rathmorrissey, Athenry, and the third would link Rathmorrisy with Gort and the M18 to Limerick. This, The Herald has been reliably informed is not even being considered now.
Sources also indicate that a new worry is the returns from tolls on some other motorway project are not living up to expectations. The M17/18 project was originally planned as a tolled route, with the builders benefiting from the tolls for a set number of years as part of their payment.
Other such arrangements have involved a Government guarantee that if the returns from tolls drop below a certain level, then the State will step in and make up the difference.
The Atlantic Corridor is designed to eventually run from Letterkenny in Donegal to Waterford, linking Sligo, Tuam, Ennis, Limerick and Cork. This new stage will begin where the motorway ends at Gort and progress northwards.
The total length of this section is 57km and will cost in the region of €300 million to build.
The M17, Athenry (Rathmorrissey) to Tuam, section of the scheme is 25.5 km long and will stretch from Rathmorrissey in the South to the existing N17 Galway to Tuam road in the North, where it will join the Tuam bypass. There will be 28 new structures, including overbridges, underbridges, river bridges across the Abbert and Grange Rivers, culverts and farm accommodation structures.