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M20 or North Ring? Which is Better


Image result for motorway junction

There’s been much focus on the development of the M20 motorway between Cork and Limerick of late.

There was uproar when it was shelved in 2011 due to the state of the national finances.

It has been at the front and centre of political pressure to have this reinstated in the capital investment plan.

Connections between cities do increase trade and economic development between them. The recent report  produced for Cork and Limerick chambers of commerce show that 5,400 jobs could be created by the opportunity that the motorway provides. This would be welcome, as would the reduction in accidents due to the new motorway.

I would suggest that once a city’s infrastructure is working, you can then look at extending networks beyond the city boundaries.

Currently Cork is functioning like a stroke victim. One side has severely restricted circulation leading to  dysfunction and disadvantage while the other side is functioning normally. If both sides were able to function equally well, we would see some significant growth and prosperity.

The isolation of the north side of Cork city has led to a dearth of investment, high unemployment and disadvantage.

In 2014 we had our office in Blackpool. It would often take 45 minutes to cross the 5 miles to Blackpool through the middle of the city via the Kinsale Rd Roundabout. The route through Jack Lynch tunnel or along the warren of back roads from the Anglers Rest in Ballincollig were no better.

All routes took the same amount of time. If you multiply this by the amount of traffic passing to and from the north side every day, you will see how much wasted productivity there is.

The journey took its toll on my health too. It wasn’t just the lost time that was a cost, but lost productivity, having left time and energy on the road, nudging through slow moving traffic.

Since then, we’ve moved to a convenient location off the South Link.

Now if a shiny new M20 motorway is constructed it will terminate at the R635, the current North Cork Ring Road at Blackpool, through built up Mayfield.

The half hour in time savings made on the journey will back up and be lost at this last and crucial bottle neck. This will exacerbate existing congestion at this point and won’t add to the productivity of the city. The massive investment in the new road would not realise it’s full potential.

Building a new M20 motorway will cost between €750 million & €1.25 billion. This equates to between €140,000 and €231,000 per new job created.

The cost of an outer ring road would be in the region of €200 million and will give far higher percentage economic return than the proposed M20 motor way.

It will open up vast areas of the north side for development, increase productivity of people and companies, add to the nett worth of the city and its inhabitants.

The undeveloped area inside the proposed route for the north ring road is about 12,000 acres

That would conservatively accommodate 70,000 houses and all associated schools, retail, industrial and recreational areas.

It could be easily envisaged then how this piece of infrastructure could facilitate 50,000 jobs. This investment  would then equate to €4,000 per job.

Add to this the productivity increases, decreased travel time, higher tax returns, increased property values and overall increase in economic activity and there is a very strong economic case for a new ring road that will pay for itself within a very short space of time.

At a time when Dublin is becoming unsustainably expensive yet again, viable secondary options are needed to take the pressure from it, re-balance the economy and make it more competitive.

The projected population increases and current accommodation crisis needs our policy makers to think big. Facilitating the necessary development with appropriate infrastructure is first place to start. Nothing can happen without this.

The M20 motorway on its own will have limited benefits in that it will just connect 2 adjacent cities and will run into circulation problems at the final stage.  Furthermore, it won’t facilitate development or expansion of either city.

As quantity surveyors, we always provide a comparative analysis to see which is the option that provides the best value for our clients.

In this case, we believe the superior option would be to build both pieces of infrastructure at the same time. There would be the synchronistic effect of opening up the north of the city and connecting the southern region.

It would secure Cork’s future for generations to come and help to re-balance the whole economy.

Sometimes the answer is not either/or, sometimes, it’s both.


An edited version of this article was published in the Irish Examiner on the 20th July 2017