Carey Bridge in Mullingar.

Vehicle bridge proposals divide MKMD members

Proposals that two new bridges be erected in Mullingar to help with traffic flow in the town were made by Cllr Andrew Duncan at the January meeting of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad – but there was opposition to his proposal from independent councillor, Mick Dollard, and town mayor, Green Party member Hazel Smyth, leading to some heated exchanges.

Cllr Duncan asked that the district look into the possibility of erecting a vehicular bridge over the canal connecting Barrack Street and the Delvin Road and also that they look at the possibility of erecting a vehicular bridge between College Street and Fair Green.

On the Barrack Street to the Delvin Road proposal, the written response from the district was that due to the existing levels of roads and buildings on the canal, that would not be feasible.

On the second suggestion, the district replied that a consultant has been appointed to carry out a transport study for Mullingar and the provision of a bridge from the Fair Green to College Street will be examined as part of that.

Cllr Duncan, proposing his motions, argued that there are a number of “pinch points” for traffic in Mullingar and said his proposals were aimed at trying to alleviate some of the traffic pressure.

The Fine Gael man asked that the council look to see if an engineering solution could be found to get over the issue of obstacles standing in the way of construction of a bridge at the first location. On the issue of providing a vehicular bridge near the Carey Bridge, Cllr Duncan said he had suggested this several times in the past and he believed it would alleviate a lot of traffic issues.

Cllr Aoife Davitt said she supported both proposals – but Cllr Mick Dollard declared himself “totally and vehemently against” a vehicular bridge near the Carey Bridge. Among the grounds on which he was opposed to it was that the Cathedral and schools were located in College Street, and also that school buses wait at the College Green to collect passengers.

“I’m tired listening about traffic pinch points in different areas of this town: it’s about time we started thinking about pedestrians,” he said.

Cllr Ken Glynn felt there was merit to Cllr Duncan’s proposal, but stated that there would need to be a consultation process, because if it were to happen, it would represent “a huge sea change”.

Cllr Emily Wallace agreed that consultation would be necessary: “I’m not against change, but I think we need to look at what is currently there and what best can be constructed to work for everyone and all aspects involved,” she stated.

Mayor Smyth said she shared the view of Cllr Dollard: “It does not align with the future vision for what we want to achieve here in Mullingar, which is just to encourage modal shifts away from reliance on individual cars to support Active Travel; public transport; the bus service that we’re talking about here.”

She also argued that the district shouldn’t be trying to encourage more motorists in and around the town centre.

Cllr Denis Leonard also supported the idea of consultation on the issue: “And if it turns out we have a vehicular bridge and pedestrian bridge side by side as they do in some locations around the country, it’s not the end of the world either,” he said, suggesting that his colleagues keep an open mind.

Cllr Duncan countered that not everyone wanted to walk everywhere. He understood the notion of protecting pedestrians, but not of prioritising them.

“The reality is that this is a wet, dreary country and people will drive their cars, and they will drive into town centres,” he said.

Cllr Frank McDermott pointed out that there are two funeral homes on Bishopsgate Street, and said 90 per cent of those attending funerals there travel in by car. He could see an advantage in motorists being able to turn at Kerrigan’s and access the funeral homes and then exit via a route beside the Carey Bridge, thus avoiding congestion.

Cllr Glynn said he agreed with Cllr Duncan, and that not everyone shared the vision of a car-free Mullingar: “We need to support this town; we need to support the businesses and we need to keep this town driving – and we will keep it driving. And putting bikes in the middle of the town and taking cars out is not the answer.”

Mayor Smyth countered that she had never said she wanted cars taken out of the town centre: “That was not my intention by any of this, but it is about what we want to prioritise at this point in our town, whether we want to have more roads for motorists included as part of our town: that is my question.”

District engineer Pat Kavanagh told members that in the context of the new transportation study, “everything is on the table”.