The community of Slane is still absorbing the news this week that its hopes for a bypass of the village has been shot down by An Bord Pleanala. Many people are still in shock that concerns over heritage issues have trumped the safety of people's lives in the village but, unbelievable as it may seem, that is the only conclusion that can be drawn.
The planning board ruled that the proposed bridge and N2 bypass bisecting the Boyne Valley a kilometer or so east of the village was too close to Bru na Boinne World Heritage Site.
The board acknowledged that while there was an urgent need to alleviate traffic safety concerns in Slane, it did not believe alternatives to the bypass had been explored.
Meath County Council had sought approval for the 3.5km route crossing the Boyne on a new bridge between the townlands of Fennor and Crewbane, but the board said this was within the 'viewshed' of the UNESCO site, and would only be acceptable where it has been demonstrated that "no appropriate alternative is available".
The decision has left the community in Slane shocked and dismayed. Many of those advocating the building of the new road believed the visual impact of the new bridge would have been acceptable in light of the loss of life on the N2 in Slane over the decades. Approximately 22 people have died there in the past 30 years and many others have suffered serious injuries on the dangerous descent through the village to the bridge over the Boyne.
"For over 40 years, our community has been convinced that the only solution to the serious road safety situation is a bypass of our village," said spokesperson Michele Power. "Today, our hopes of finally being freed from this intolerable situation have been completely destroyed with the decision of the board to refuse permission for the Slane bypass."
When one considers the scores of new roads and bypasses that have been built the length and breadth of Ireland in the last couple of decades to relieve congestion in small towns and villages, it is abhorrent that the most urgent of them all - with a capacity to genuinely prevent road deaths - has still not got off the starting blocks.
Those advocating a bypass as the only solution to Slane's difficulties now feel they have exhausted every avenue open to them and feel entirely helpless and at the mercy of the traffic hurtling through their village. They are justifiably angry that decades of inaction has led to the current impasse, and is nothing short of a national scandal.
So where to now for this campaign? Despite calls for an alternative route to be considered immediately and planning on this to begin forthwith, the National Roads Authority (NRA) has indicated the planning board's decision appears to reject any prospect of a bypass for Slane and is instead focused on a traffic management solution. It does not have a budget to prepare a new route anyway and, given current economic circumstances, it looks like any such move to put forward an alternative route will not happen for many years.
Meath County Council, for its part, says it is disappointed with the decision by An Bord Pleanala but the council remains committed to finding a solution to the traffic safety issues in Slane. In the short to medium term, one of the solutions that has been proposed is a ban on heavy trucks through Slane, but this has been scotched in the past as being virtually unworkable. Bypass campaigners in Slane say that, even if the ban worked, HGV traffic would simply divert through Navan or Drogheda rather than pay tolls on the M1 and M3 motorways.
There are already extensive traffic-calming measures in place in Slane and a 30km/h speed limit leading down towards the bridge, but locals say few obey the speed limits. One solution to this would be to place permanent speed cameras or mobile camera vans in Slane and to publicise their presence widely. Mobile speed detection vans placed strategically throughout the country on roads where speeding occurs have been successful in getting motorists to slow down and there is no reason to believe they would not work in Slane.
However, in the absence of a bypass being built anytime soon, all agencies need to work together to ensure that all road safety measures are put in place in Slane and that the gardai are given the resources they need to tackle speeding traffic there. It is only a short-term solution and would only give a small measure of comfort to families in the area who are frightened by the dangers they face week in, week out. In the longer term, revisiting the issue of the bypass will have to be contemplated.
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