New N55 route plan by February

Finalised Option Selection Report (OSR) is currently being updated.

The preferred route for the planned redevelopment of the N55 (Ballymahon Road) outside Athlone is expected to be revealed by February, the first major milestone in the project in close to three years.

The news of an expected breakthrough was revealed at the recent Athlone-Moate Municipal District meeting, after Fine Gael Cllr Tom Farrell sought an update on the long-running road project between Cornamaddy, in Athlone, and Ballymahon.

He was told in a written reply from the local authority that the “business case for the scheme” is being updated with support from Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to account for “increased construction costs” and current inflation rates.

“The finalised Option Selection Report (OSR) is currently being updated and finalised by Atkins. Subject to TII review it is intended to publish the Option Selection Report and complete Phase 2 - Options Selection by February 2023,” the reply added.

In their own documentation on road projects, TII described the 'Option Selection' element as seeking to "identify a preferred option through a structured appraisal process".

Cllr Tom Farrell, who described the news as a “slow step in the right direction”, said at least local people will finally know where they stand when the preferred route is published in February.

In June of 2019, an ‘emerging preferred route corridor’ was published for the realignment of the busy route which bypassed Ballykeeran, Tubberclair, Glasson, and Tang, and incorporated portions of the existing route, before joining up with the N55 just south of Ballymahon.

This route attracted substantial local opposition, with one group, the N55 Steering Committee, who said they represented 400 residents complaining that they would be “adversely affected” by the ‘emerging preferred route corridor’ should it be selected as the preferred route.

Among their concerns were congestion in Cornamaddy, while they also said a number of homes would be demolished if the plan moved forward and others would be left stranded between the old road and the new realigned route.

“If we get this preferred route corridor, at least we know what we’re talking about and the end is in sight,” Cllr Tom Farrell (FG) said in the wake of the latest update on the project circulated to members at the January Athlone-Moate Municipal District meeting on Monday week last.

However, he believes the new road, work on which began all the way back in 2018, could take a long time to come to fruition.

“It’s going to take years irrespective of which route is picked,” he stated.

A timeframe for the new N55 road project to become a reality was estimated at anything between eight and thirteen years by engineers earlier in the process.

Back in April 2018, the process first started with five initial route options and six other links. That was later refined down in October of that year to six end-to-end options, and an ‘emerging preferred route’ was expected to be chosen by March 2019. However, that was held up due to archaeological issues as well as difficulties sourcing consulting engineers for this type of project.

It was finally announced in June 2019 to a very mixed reaction from local people, with at least two families living along the emerging route facing possible relocation, while a number of farmers would see their farms dissected if this route was progressed.

In July 2020, the council said “design modifications” were being investigated as part of the route selection process, but it expected the preferred route to be announced later that year.

Again in November 2021, the local authority anticipated the publication of the preferred route in January 2022 following some “minor adjustments” by the consultants.

It previously emerged that funding is only available for the finalisation of the route selection process, and the council will then have to approach TII.