Athlone's new cycleway bridge to be lifted into place in coming weeks
The new cycleway bridge over the River Shannon in Athlone will start to take shape towards the end of this month, when specialised equipment will be used to lift it into place in three sections.
This will be a significant moment as it will give the public their first clear glimpse of what the bridge will look like when complete.
Easter of next year, which falls in early April, is the projected opening date for the pedestrian and cycle bridge and a project spokesperson told the Westmeath Independent that it remains on course to open at that stage.
It will be the fourth bridge over the river in Athlone, and the first to be developed since the bypass bridge, or relief road bridge, opened to traffic more than 30 years ago in March 1991.
The steel structure of the bridge was manufactured in Seville, by a company called Tecade, and was transported to Ireland in 13 parts in recent weeks.
The 13 parts are currently being assembled into three bridge sections in Wansboro Park in Athlone. From there the three sections will be transported down the river to the bridge site, between the Radisson Hotel and the Luan Gallery.
"The lifts down the river are pencilled in for the last days of August and the beginning of September. It's expected that it will take three days per lift," explained Michael Kelly, Senior Executive Engineer with Westmeath County Council.
"You will have 150 tonnes coming down the Shannon on a barge, being lifted up by this special piece of equipment into position, onto a temporary support and a permanent support."
He said the central piece of the bridge will be lifted into place first. It will sit atop an oval-shaped central pier, or central abutment, which is due to be completed in the next fortnight.
The three parts being lifted in will form the 'skeleton' of the bridge, but Mr Kelly said there would still be plenty more work to be done before it would be ready for use by the public.
"There will be a lot of dressing to go on top of it... all of the finishes will have to go onto it, the handrails and all the fittings. There's a trapezoidal section, or hollow section, in the middle, and concrete has to be poured into that.
"Our whole objective is to get the steel structure in place so that we can be out of the water by the beginning of October, and then we can work from out of the water until we get the job completed.
"The target date hasn't changed, we're still hoping to open by next Easter, and in general we are happy with the progress that is being made on it. The contractors have been doing a good job," he said.
Last year, a contract worth approximately €13 million was awarded to Meath-based firm Jons Civil Engineering Ltd for the construction of the bridge and the cantilevered boardwalks that will connect with it on both sides of the river.
Mr Kelly said planning for the Athlone to Galway section of the cycleway was progressing.
A 'preferred route corridor' for the project was announced last December, and he said the project team was now attempting to finalise the route in consultation with private landowners.
In a recent Westmeath County Council management report it was stated that there were three locations, comprising 12km of the 205km route corridor, where it was "proving difficult to reach agreement" with private landowners.
"We don't have a final route everywhere yet," said Mr Kelly. "We have agreement in principle over a good part of it, but we haven't got a final route everywhere at this point in time. We are in consultation with the private landowners in the various areas."