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Councillors told to cool off in debate over Oughterard bridge

The proposed installation of traffic lights on the Oughterard bridge crossing led to a lengthy and sometimes heated debate at the Conamara Area meeting of councillors at County Hall last week.

Following verbal exchanges between two Oughterard councillors – Tom Welby (Ind) and Seamus Walsh (FF) – Connemara Area Cathaoirleach Cllr Noel Thomas (FF) suspended the meeting for a ten-minute ‘cooling off’ period.

Fine Gael councillor Eileen Mannion said that it really saddened her to see the issue getting so personal and political when everyone wanted the new pedestrian bridge put in place as soon as possible.

“Everyone is in favour of the footbridge. It seems as if we’ve a long way to go before children can safely cross the road at Oughterard,” said Cllr Mannion.

Galway County Council Director of Services, Derek Pender, said that in parallel with the proposals on the lights, plans for the new pedestrian bridge were being drawn up, with a consultant engineer engaged.

However, he added that with currently no pedestrian facilities on the bridge, a safe mechanism needed to be put in place for people to cross.

“I believe that the lights will help to ease congestion on the bridge. As things stand, parents feel that for safety reasons they have to drive their children to the front of the school and pick them up from there as well,” said Mr Pender.

Following a number of contributions from councillors, the Director of Services said that the sequencing of the lights was ‘not written in stone’ and could be changed and adapted using a trial-and-error type process.

He told councillors that before their next area meeting he would prepare a ‘non-technical’ report with modelled impacts of how the sequencing of the traffic lights could operate. This would be presented at a workshop with the local councillors.

“If lights are given a chance they will be of benefit to the entire community of Oughterard. As things stand, the situation at the bridge is absolutely chaotic – the lights will help to reduce congestion,” said Mr Pender.

He added that a Part 8 planning application in relation to the lights would be coming before the Council either next month or the month after. A Part 8 application is one that councillors themselves must vote on following a recommendation from Council officials.

National Roads Project Office engineer, Seán Devaney, told councillor said that it would take about two to three years for the proposed footbridge to be put in place – the process had to be started from scratch again, he added.

He said that the space was not there on the existing bridge over the Owenriff River to provide a dedicated footpath, and while the proposed lights could lead to some extra delays, these shouldn’t be a huge amount.

Mr Devaney said that it would take approximately one year before the new pedestrian bridge options were chosen and presented by the consultant engineers.

In reply to a question from Cllr Seamus Walsh as regards the possibility of losing funding if the new footbridge was moved away from the existing structure, Mr Pender replied: “We would not lose the funding regardless of the location we pick.”

Cllr Walsh also asked ‘where does liability start or end’ in relation to road accidents and if councillors had the same level of indemnity as Council staff. “If the lights are installed, they’ll be there to stay,” he said.

Mr Pender said any traffic incidents on the road would be a matter for the Garda Síochána and added that he couldn’t comment on legal or liability issues.

The Director of Services also said that the Council had ‘absolutely no problem’ with the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service) who had been proactively involved with the local authority on the project. “I expect that they will come to the table, but we have to have a bridge plan in place first,” he added.

Cathaoirleach Noel Thomas said that the people of Oughterard had lost confidence in the whole process. “We’ve been talking about the new bridge in Oughterard for years and it’s still not happening. Now, we’re told that the NPWS have no issue [with the bridge],” said Cllr Thomas.

Cllr Tom Welby that the Part 8 planning decision could either grant, refuse or seek further information on the proposed traffic lights. “When are we likely to get a potential decision on that,” he asked.

According to Cllr Gerry King (FF) the new bridge at Oughterard ‘had been talked about for 30 years without any progress being made’. “We need to see a timescale for the planning application,” he said.

Cllr Pádraig Mac an Iomaire (FG) said that there were fears it could be another ten years before the bridge would be built. “Why has this project taken so long,” he asked.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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