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?