Reply To: Macken St Bridge – Santiago Calatrava

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This piece from Alan Stanford in the Indo

A couple of things, apparently unconnected, caught my eye in the paper over the last couple of days. It would appear that Dublin City Council is now getting cold feet over the cost of a new bridge over the Liffey in the docks area. The bridge in question has been designed by Santiago Calatrava, who has graced the Liffey with another of his designs, at a far shorter crossing, upstream. The cost, it seems, has grown from an initial €20 million to an estimated €38 million. You all know the formula. When you want a builder to do something in the house, take the estimate and double it and you get something like the real figure.

It’s the same with cities. Whatever needs doing will always cost more than they tell you it will. But usually it’s because they haven’t factored in all the possibilities. With this bridge it seems they have. Not only is it to have four lanes for traffic but space for a possible Luas line as well, even though there is no Luas line planned for the area yet. There will also be pedestrian and cycle lanes. All in all a bridge for all of us to use with ease comfort and space. And just in case a ship wants to go upstream of it, the whole thing will pivot to let it pass. In other words, somebody or possibly some group of planners have thought long and hard and decided exactly what will be needed, not just for the next few years, but into the foreseeable future and then planned for it.

And then the panic starts. The price has risen. Then the cost of building, steel, workers, tea and sandwiches and any other possible excuse will be used to talk down the price or the design or worse still, cancel the whole thing. And then, in 20 years time, when the gridlock of the Dublin streets has finally claimed its first victim of ‘starvation by traffic jam’, someone in the City Council will say: “Let’s build a bridge and wouldn’t it have been better to have done it 20 years ago when prices were cheaper?”

It’s a rare thing for any politician to plan for anything more than five years ahead; that being the gap between their being elected and the next time they will have to face the electorate. Long-term planning is something usually done by civil servants and undone by politicians who cut expenditure to impress the voters with their fiscal rectitude, because where grandiose ideas may get votes, long-term cost doesn’t. But where such expenditure is all that lies between us and transport stagnation, spending, however much it might hurt, is what we must face.

We live in a country that is growing rapidly. In the first 50 years of this State we cut back on practically everything that would get us moving. We axed a perfectly good rail network which, next to their parliamentary and judicial system and their architecture, was the best thing perfidious Albion left us.
We failed for far too many years to invest in our roads and failed even to recognise where those roads may need to be created. We have never recognised that public transport and the movement of people around our cities and country is a necessity, not a luxury. Public transport should not be expected to break even, much less make a profit. It is an expense we all should bear in order for the nation to work efficiently.

All of our major cities are dissected by a river – the Liffey, Lee, Shannon and Corrib. Indeed, Galway has the addition of a lake as well as a river and Cork has two branches of the Lee. Whatever about the other cities, and I am sure it is as true of them with their rivers, the Liffey is the single biggest traffic obstacle in the city of Dublin. Traffic must either run beside it, across it, or eventually, when the M50 is widened and the tunnel complete, around it. Therefore any progress we can make in bridging it must be grasped with both hands and quickly. And don’t count the cost in euro, count it in comfort, efficiency and progress. Otherwise they’ll use the same excuse to block the Metro as well.

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