Limerick Tunnel

Why was a dangerous and expensive tunnel selected for the Shannon crossing instead of a bridge?

The tunnel under the Shannon is soon to open for business and it’s a major feat of construction but that’s not what I want to talk about.


What I’d like talk about is the decision to build a tunnel instead of a bridge, at perhaps three times the cost.

A tunnel needs constant maintenance, lighting, ventilation, and when something goes wrong, it requires an immediate emergency response.  Everything about a tunnel makes access difficult and multiplies the danger of chemical spillages, smoke and heat.  A fire in a tunnel is one of the most dangerous challenges rescue personnel can face and in the Limerick tunnel, access is even more difficult because, for some reason, it was decided not to construct a smaller emergency tunnel for use by fire service, police and ambulance people, presumably because the estimated cost of the project was already gigantic.

A bridge, on the other hand, needs no ventilation, no lighting and no specialised emergency response.  A bridge is just a road.  It costs about a third of the price of a tunnel, and offers opportunities to create a major, iconic structure as a gateway to a region.

So why build a tunnel at enormous cost when a bridge would do?

The stated reason was to permit ships to pass unhindered on their way to and from Limerick port, but as we all know, Limerick has no future as a commercial port, since there’s a far better deep-water anchorage at Foynes, twenty miles downriver, and a deep-water facility at Tarbert superior to anything Rotterdam has to offer, if correctly developed.

The future of Limerick port lies in the city.  It has the potential to provide a first-class marine and cultural quarter with facilities for water-based activities, sport, theatre and all of the other things that thrive when an old docks is rejuvenated.  It has character and history, including a graving dock that was carved out of the bedrock, and a magnificent floating dock complete with lock gates to trap the high tide.

The future of Limerick as a port would have been well known to the design team as they contemplated the various options for a river crossing, and it’s baffling why they would have chosen such an expensive, dangerous and inconvenient solution to a problem that didn’t exist.

By making this choice, those responsible for the design deprived the region of an iconic bridge structure, and imposed a dangerous, unnecessary tunnel which has cost this country far more than it needed to spend.

I’d like to know why a tunnel was selected when it was plainly the wrong choice.  What was the motivation for this decision?

55 thoughts on “Limerick Tunnel

  1. I think it is worth asking the question alright. There was a report done at the time that examined a shortlist of options for the fourth river crossing. The primary reason given for choosing a tunnel instead of a bridge, as far as I remember, was that shipping would be able to continue to navigate the estuary as far as the city. It was a case of build a bridge and close the port, or build a tunnel at higher cost and keep the port open. I don’t remember that the estimated cost of the tunnel was three times that of the bridge though. A high-level span bridge was considered also but unfortunately this was ruled out on cost grounds. It would have been magnificent to see such a construction on the estuary.

    It’s worth digging out that report anyway, as it went into the decision making process in some detail.

  2. The tunnel is on the motorway but they are going to have a 60kph limit in it, I can understand slowing down to maybe 100 kph, but to go from 120 down to 60 sounds more dangerous than letting the traffic flow.

  3. Money??

    I was a bit miffed when they moved the city boundary marker from the old bridge. A position it occupied for 130 years. It seems the County Council gained a few square yards as a result.

  4. I’ll say no more than this. People need to ask questions. They need to ask why this decision was made and why it might have appeared compelling to those who made it.

  5. The question to ask is: what is the toll charge and how long will the toll last – and how long will it before the hairy arsed reptiles in the Town Hall reckon they’re on a cash cow and jack up the toll. We were told not to ask that question about two years ago – a sensitive issue – we asked it anyway, and the bollocks legged it. However, some of the papers, following faithfully in the footsteps of Woodward and Berstein, asked the real questions. Such as; were you born in Limerick, and, er, inviting banalaties; do you think
    the Mid-West region is ideal for investment? – “Why, of course it is, that is why, with the exception of rendition flights, Shannon Airport is completely and utterly fucked and its runways will be open for go car racing in the near future. “Splendid, intrepid stuff from the fourth estate – and it was the sports hacks that were asking the questions.

  6. “The question to ask is: what is the toll charge and how long will the toll last – and how long will it before the hairy arsed reptiles in the Town Hall”

    Would that be Fianna Fail hairy arsed reptiles?

    Or Fine Gale hairy arsed reptiles?

    Or Labour hairy arsed reptiles?

    Or Sine Fein hairy arsed reptiles?

    Or would it be the real hairy arsed reptile?

    The one that owns all the rest.

    The IMF hairy arsed reptile?

    When did we lose or Sovereignty?

    Was it in 1916?

    Was it the War of Independence?

    Was it the Civil War?

    Was it when we joined the EU?

    Was it when we joined a currency union?

    Where are we now?

    In the hands of hairy arsed reptiles.


    Because we like it.

  7. The cash that was available for the tunnel is as nothing when compered to the 335 million that’s being put up for the regeneration crap. There may be shenanigans the likes of which may devastate the city.
    Corruption of enormous proportions about to flatten us.

  8. I think I read that the toll will last until 2041, and the money goes to the investors not the council

  9. A mere €660,000,000.

    Surely a bridge could have been built for €100,000,000.

  10. If it was decided to build a bridge, it would need to be high enough to clear the mast of the biggest ships using Limerick Port. That would require enormous groundworks to raise the road level to possibly 100 feet or more, and I’m sure that would have a long lasting effect on the surrounding landscape, not to mention the wildlife that abounds in the area. I feel that the Tunnel was definitly the better option.

  11. Daz, It may be water over the, oh never mind

    Anyway, if a man was from Clare/Shannon or even parts of Limerick he might say to himself. Fuck that. I’m not going to waste time being caught in traffic going through Limerick – this would be a person being forced to go to Dublin Airport because Shannon Airport is being systematically closed down. I’ll drive through the tunnel (€1.80).Sure what’s 2 euro? Off he goes, Shumackering up the road. And behold there’s another toll – manned by a cretin, who is letting you know with his body language that your interfering with his attempt to do a crossword, taking the money – on the new motorway about 80 miles outside Dublin (€1.80).

    3 (down) A person who collects toll money on a motorway, who may be deserving of a nasty surprise (1,8,13,6,3,3,3,4,2,4,2.3 & 8) Correct answer: A contrary disillusioned fucker who you may want to kick in the bollocks.

    Off you go again, turning left at the Red Cow en route to Dub Airport. Why, and sure what harm, isn’t that another toll (electronic) on the airport road (€2). And behold, sure dip your hands into my pocket why don’t you, there’s the DAA waiting at the airport to rob you if you have the audacity to stop your car in short term parking.

    My estimated cost of a six/seven hour return journey to Dublin Airport, because there’s no flights worth mentioning leaving Shannon, including petrol (€40) and food (€20) – you’ll have to pay the trolls on the way back also – is approaching €80 at this stage, which will probably be about 50% more than the cost of some of the Ryanair flights you may be getting to Europe.

    Maybe someone can explain why our roads have been handed over to private investors and motorists are being robbed? Dick Turpin wouldn’t get a look in with them, and he was a man that knew a thing or two about extracting money from people on highways.

  12. you dont have to use the toll roads, the law states that there has to be an alternative and there is so dont use the toll roads if you dont want too, simple

  13. The €335m earmarked for regeneration is just over half of the cost of this needless tunnel. There would have been no need to raise the road level at all if you had a bridge that opens in the middle to allow ships through. In fact, what ships will be coming through in the future? Fuck all. The cost of an opening bridge, spanning the shannon river amounts to approximately €227m – quite a saving in anyone’s book. Also, who said a bridge is an eyesore? Done properly it could have added to our city. A tunnel adds nothing and cannot deal with the amount of traffic a bridge can. And, before anyone starts talking about congestion while the bridge is open, think about it. How long is needed? Less time than a level crossing for draw bridge of the required size and how often would it be needed? Think about it. There is no valid argument for a tunnel as opposed to a bridge.

  14. I have heard from well-placed sources that the third bore fire-fighting and escape tunnel was kept out of the brief to keep the project cost below a certain threshold so that the contract wouldn’t have to be advertised across Europe under EC procurement law. That kept it within the scope of local contractors, it meant no Turks or Portagees would get a chance to do it cheaper.

    Also, as far as I know, this was a County Council project, not one run by my neighbours in City Hall. The earlier post about the city-county marker is not correct – the boundary was for the past few decades at the Ballinacurra Creek, just past the halting site on the Dock Road. That didn’t change in the Johnny Gormley borough boundary extension.

    The ink wasn’t dry on the tunnel contract when the harbour suggested moving to Foynes. Why didn’t the County Council get a €300-million bond from the harbour to secure the ivnestment in the bridge? It seems the County Council ASSUMED that the river needed to be kept navigable, without saying to the Port Company – if you want it kept, YOU pay the excess cost of tunnel over bridge. In effect, the excess cost is an investment or an expenditure related to the port, but motorists are being asked to pay for it! There should be a toll on every ship passing over the tunnel instead – now, wouldn’t that be a nice case to bring to the European Courts?

    C. Swan

  15. @ unstranger

    I too have heard of shenanigans of a criminal nature taking place in the zones for regeneration. I’m not sure if i can say more here.

    @ C. Swan

    I was referring to the boundary marker near the Dooradoyle shopping centre. Are we talking about the same one?

  16. I was told by a politician in the county council in Dooradoyle that the only reason a Tunnel was built in Limerick was that Cork allready had one, and If Cork got one then Limerick was going to have one regardless of cost.

  17. Not knowing the local politics I’d say follow the money if you want to find ‘reasons’ – remembering that Irish local authorities have had little use historically for reason in decision-making.

    Keeping a port open seems like a good option, but all crossings of tidal waterways should design in at least 2m sea rise over the next century, probably more to be on the safe side.

  18. I have heard it said, the tunnel needs to be open asap, as one of the major shareholder (A.I.B.) are short of a few bob, I wonder why? So remember when your given your €1.80, your supporting your local bank, aren’t you very good.

  19. ger

    “the law states”

    What law?

    Is ther law when Anglo Irish Bank sucks €25,000,000,000 out of the ecomony/society?

    What law ger?

    Haven’t you worked it out yet.

    There is no law.

    There is just greed.

  20. Limerick band Tuesday Blue sang about this tunnel as far back as the mid 80s. Here’s Mike Ryan down by the river,er, right at the spot, warning us 25 years ago. But did we listen? No.

  21. Severn bridge …. 988 meters.

    Cost £8 million in 1966.

    Forth Road Bridge ….. 2,512 meters.


    “The total cost of the bridge including the approach roads consisting of 13 kilometres of dual carriageway, 13 kilometres of minor access roads and 24 minor bridges was £19,500,000 (~£250,000,000 today).”

    That’s £250,000,000 in 2004.

    Skye Bridge ….. 570m (+ 2.4km of roadway and a secondary bridge.

    Cost £39m (1995).

  22. Dept of transport has a history of somewhat strange decisions. Luas anyone? 4 motorways going parallel to each other within a few miles of each other in Co. Meath? This is not incompetence lads, follow the money is right.

  23. I heard there were backhanders involved with the contractors that were awarded the luas deal… a person told me someone involved wanted him to be the whistle blower but he turned it down saying he’d never work again if he did.
    No doubt the contractors had some friends in FF. Don’t know if that’s libelous Bock.. delete if you want.

  24. bullshit bullshit bullshit…

    sorry bock. U give me an inch and I’ll take a mile.

    Unfortunately I can’t post link to tender notice as it was published in 2004 and can’t find archive for before 2005.

    However here is an international industry website which provides links to TED.europe adverts(inactive).

  25. My humble opinion of a tunnel rather than a bridge, is that yes it was more expensive and therin lies the answer!

  26. Will you all, please, stop moaning and coming up with fantasy conspiracy theorys. Go and do some work you lazy lot.

  27. I made a trip to Portlaoise last week, and because i live and work full time in Ireland i didn’t have the price of the toll charge which appeared before me without as much as a sign. No warning, just how much you had to pay when you got there, i managed to sort out my 5c etc, and the fucking machine weighted the car in a van and i had to search the car, with jeep behind me for the extra €150 or whatever it was. (I blamed my slightly over weight mother for this, she wasn’t happy).

    The most annoying thing about the toll is that you pay motor tax for the privilege of driving on roads that the council say they have no obligation to fix. We’ve received billions in aid from the EU to fund the building of roads, which resulted in ring roads around ring roads around the most important and only existent bit of Ireland., and when they finally, after how many years of being in the EU build a few decent roads around the rest of the country and we’re expected to pay for it. Double taxation is what it is, without warning, and without alternative routes. I’ve never seen an alternative route suggested and even ended up getting fined because i didn’t even realise the wonderful M50 was eflow at the time.

    On an off topic subject i recently received an invoice from the HSE for €75 day patient charge or something. This was for a procedure i had asked my GP to organize 2 1/2 years before hand and had to ask him 3 times to resend the letter that i had not heard from them. I barely understood what the surgeon said to me and wasn’t told anything just bye now. I was under the impression that a health levy was introduced at a percentage of salary? So whats this about then?

  28. A few comments here guys as I have the benefit of having one of those reptiles in City Hall for a mate.

    a) The City had to be by-passed. Having roads from the west, the south and south-west, the south east and the east meet outside Roches Stores was never going to be sustainable.
    b) With the exception of the N(M)18, all of these primary routes are south of the river. Hence the preference for a downstream crossing.
    c) Yes, there are lessons to be learned from the port wind-down debacle and the costing of the project.
    d) Since the boundary extension, the new city/county boundary is now half-way through the tunnel. Apart from a few hundred metres in Clare on the north-side and an N54-Monaghan-Fermanagh-type border criss-cross at Ballinacurra/Dooradoyle, most of the SRR is now inside the city boundary as are both toll plazas.
    e) There may be some rates revenue for the City Council from the Toll Plazas but the rating is based on the value of the buildings and not the turnover of cash. What rates revenue will accrue to the City Council will have no correlation with traffic volumes.
    f) Direct Route will pocket the toll money and spend some of it on maintenance, including cleaning, lighting, surfacing and payroll. When the PPP arrangement expires in 2041, the chances are that revenues will pass to the NRA or its descendant as is the case with the M50. The City Council will clean as far as the Clonmacken Roundabout.
    g) The main benefit for the city council should be the reduction in levels of traffic as up to 40% of drivers at some times, have no wish to be in the city as they are en-route elsewhere.

  29. With regard that that county politician, it wasn’t a case of ‘ we must have a tunnel if dublin and cork have one’ either. I don’t know for sure but i imagine that some sort of option analysis was undertaken by those in the know. A freedom of information request would be useful.

    I know the boyne railway bridge in drogheda well. . It is a 100 feet over the water level and has huge approach viaducts. If a bridge wa built from coonagh to bunlicky, there would need to be massive earthworks for the approach ramps. From what i heard, the blue clay in coonagh and the river bed would provide very poor foundations for point loading piers (look at the m7 debacle in north east limerick; 17 months late and counting). Furthermore the clonmacken link would also need to be steeply graded. There would probably be significant windloading too for hgvs crossing a bridge that high.

    The dublin tunnel takes many hgvs out of the city centre, the cork tunnel links south cork to the rest of the road network but the limerick tunnel effectively links dublin, waterford and cork regions with the west. It is of far more strategic value.

  30. The two reasons given in that link are the ones I’m asking about here.

    The main reason for making this recommendation is that the Tunnel reduces visual intrusion in the landscape. It also eliminates potential conflict between Road and River users which would have occurred due to the opening of the Low Level Opening Bridge to facilitate shipping movements.

    There is going to be no conflict between road users and Limerick port, and the design team should have been well aware of this when they selected the final scheme. Their suggestion that the tunnel reduces visual intrusion is nonsense: a bridge always offers an opportunity to create something beautiful.

    The link also skips over the rationale behind the decision to omit a safety tunnel.

    These don’t look like reasons. They look more like excuses.

  31. @Gryff – consultants decide nothing. Consultants advise. Their client decides. Consultants who want more work will tend to give the advice the client wants. It’s a version of Sir Humphrey’s hypothesis on reviews in the public service. On top of that, consultants are on scale costs. They earn more from big-ticket projects than little ones. Work it out.

    @ Paul – who was in charge of infrastructure (what the public knows as roads and pipes) in the Council when the decision to omit a fire tunnel was taken, and where is that individual now? Who was the Chief Fire Officer, and what happened to him? Did he agree that no fire-fighting access tunnel would be ok? If he didn’t, who did and what were his qualifications?

    No inactive links here.


  32. In fairness a bridge could only improve that particular landscape. They should also have built a bridge over the Lee, instead of the Lynch Tunnel. A tunnel looks better on a CV is probably the benign interpretation as to why they would repeatedly make this mistake, but given the money involved I’d say its more a classic case of milking the exchequer, again, for the benefit of the chosen few. You could say the same for a lot of big transport projects in Ireland. Look at the Luas for God’s sake. How many million did they spend and how much disruption did they cause, when a few extra busses laid on could have done the same job. And they already had the bus lanes.

  33. The Dublin Road is usually very busy around this hour, but it is relatively quite right now – not unlike a Sunday afternoon. The tunnel opened today. I reckon I’m trying to make a point in there somewhere, but where, pray tell, where.

  34. Mr Nuts – you seem to have remarkable clarity on this matter, I suppose it’s a lucid interval in your case. You remind me of a few stories I heard from an old grey crow who used to hang in the Milk Market – he knew a lot about these shennanigans but spoke little. Taking the long gaze, it seeme to me that we have now built ourselves a tunnel that passes under a river where ships may soon no longer ply, leading us at a rate of knots to an airport where planes may soon no longer land. Oh dear. What an idiot nation we are with these vanity projects.
    I see there’s now a debate on naming the tunnel that is gaining some traction locally. I’d personally call it the Celtic Tiger’s Hole because it’s the last we’ll see of said feline.

    C. Swan

  35. In an earlier Career on the Sea, I sailed on Tankers, Cargo Vessels, Colliers, etc etc., and I agree that a Tunnel was not necessary up river at Limerick. I have been on Super Tankers that could go under any Bridge we encountered around the Globe, And these Bridges were not at all that impressive, they did not necessarily look very high etc., Dont forget that a very well Dredged area beneath a Bridge will allow the highest Masts to Proceed up river at Low Tide., Anyway its a bit late to be Cribbing now, I walked across when the Tunnel opened and I took my 3 year old Grandson by the hand., He got a Certificate saying that he walked the Tunnel etc., etc., Happy Days

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