A view of what the new bridge will look like when completed.

Bridge project moves to key in-water phase next month

The construction of Athlone's new pedestrian and cycleway bridge across the Shannon enters a critical phase next month, with work starting in the water on the new central pier abutment that will support the new structure.

Up to now, work has concentrated on the east and west banks of the river adjacent to the Radisson Blu Hotel, and on the other side beside the Luan Gallery, as part of the project to bring the cycleway from Athlone Marina to Athlone Castle.

“What they have been doing is the piling works for the foundations for the bridge abutments, boardwalks and ramps on either side. That's what's been ongoing to date, and now, with the season allowing us to go in on May 3, they'll be starting to prepare the central pier works,” explained Michael Kelly, who is Senior Executive Engineer, Westmeath County Council, National Roads Office on Monday.

While the navigation channel will be kept open during the in-water works, Waterways Ireland is warning the public and boaters that the channel in the vicinity of the marina will be restricted to a width of 15 metres from May 3. Both sides of the navigation channel will be buoyed with temporary makers.

The first phase of the in-water works involves the installation of what's called a cofferdam, essentially a temporary steel box structure to allow for the construction of the central pier abutment to support the new bridge.

Mr Kelly explains further: “In the month of May you'll see the temporary works going in which is effectively a steel box, 20 feet square, and inside that they pump the water out and get down to the river bed and then they pile drive down to the rock and they build a pile cap onto the piles in the river bed.

“Out of that this pier gets poured in concrete, and then in July and August they lift in three sections of the bridge. The bridge comes in thirteen sections, it's put together in Wansboro where the compound is. It gets floated down the river and then lifted in, and into position on the pier. Then the temporary supports get taken away in September, hopefully, before the season is out,” Mr Kelly says, adding that they were not allowed instream until the start of May because of the fisheries season.

The contractor will keep a navigation channel open at all times, he stresses, albeit it will have to move at various parts of the work to facilitate the construction and the installation of the bridge.

“The idea is by the end of September when the season ends that we will have the bridge lifted into place and then between October and this time next year when we hope the bridge opens, they will do all their finishing works as in parapets, railings, lighting finishes and construct the ramps on the east and west banks,” details Michael Kelly, who adds they are still on track for opening next Easter.

“Even though a lot of the work won't be seen, it's a critical part of the project for us,” he says of the May phase, thanking the public for their patience to date.

He admits it is an exciting part of the landmark project which will see the river's newest crossing start to take shape.

“This will be the first major cycleway bridge to go in (in the country).

“There are a few smaller ones in Dublin but on a scale of crossing a river 100 metres wide, it's the first major one to go in Ireland of that scale,” he ends.

Last year, the completion of the Athlone Marina to the Athlone Castle Cycleway project, which includes the new bridge, was allocated €7 million by the Department of Transport, in conjunction with Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII).