CLARE County Council anticipates that a 7.5 tonne weight restriction on Stone Park Bridge in Meelick will be lifted by late March, pending remediation works, but farmers and local residents who are inconvenienced by the restrictions are asking for this date to be brought forward.
Earlier this week, the local authority announced that following an assessment of the bridge “significant corrosion and concrete spalling was detected on the deck of the bridge”. This is undermining the structural integrity of the bridge and increasing the risk of a bridge failure and so a temporary weight restriction of 7.5 tonne was placed on the bridge until the necessary repairs are carried out”.
“The majority of road users (cars, jeeps, pick-ups) will be unaffected by the restriction. Clare County Council erected signage on the bridge this week notifying road users of the weight restriction. Clare County Council is expediting a plan of works to repair the bridge. These works include design, tendering a contract and the commencement of repair work. It is anticipated that the remediation work will be completed by late March,” Clare County Council said.
Local farmer Kieran Aherne said farmers with land on either side of the bridge “can’t draw silage because we’d be overweight” and now have to go into Limerick to do this. The school bus is also affected, as there are 14 children served on the far side of the bridge by the school bus.
Mr Aherne’s daughter is among them.
“The school bus services Truagh, into Meelick and down into Limerick and serves the secondary schools in Limerick,” he said.
“I’ve land on both sides of it and it could take an hour to go around and if you have to do that trip three times in the day, that’s an extra three hours. It’s affecting farmers who are bringing silage but also local residents are affected because oil trucks won’t be able to get into the houses there
and because of the cold snap people will want oil,” he said.
He added that the farmers may also have no choice but to walk the cattle along the road if the repairs aren’t carried out soon.
He explained that nowadays a tractor without any silage could be eight tonne, so most tractors will be prevented from using this route.
The alternatives are to go around by the outskirts of Limerick City or what’s known as the Pass Road, but that’s not an option for large vehicles.
“It adds another hour to go around and Pass Road will be mayhem if heavy vehicles use it. There will be crashes on it because of this. It can take the weight but it is just impassable [because it’s too narrow],” he explained.
Joe O’Connell of J O’Connell Farm Services said his vehicles are affected and they can’t use Pass Road because it is too narrow. “We have to go through the outskirts of Limerick City now to get back to the same spot. We have a machine now just above the bridge and we can’t get home because we can’t go over the bridge. There’s a railway bridge and we can’t get under it [because of a height restriction] and we will have to go another route that will add another hour to the journey,” he said.
Councillor PJ Ryan said, “We all understand there is a major safety issue with the bridge but the big concern is that we can get it done as speedily as we can. The timeline on it is somewhere near the end of March and I would be hopeful that they would try to get through the work sooner than that. It is a major inconvenience for farmers. They have to do a 20-mile round trip to get access to lands on the other side of the bridge. It being winter time, they have to convey fodder to animals, so that’s a major problem.”
He said additional problems created by the restriction will affect fire brigade and emergency services, as the railway bridge limits access on one side of Stone Park Bridge.
“There is a railway bridge quite close to it where the head height is 3.58m, which is low. If a lorry turned over, a crane would have to be brought in to right the lorry. Also, anybody who for whatever
reason doesn’t see the signage and if they are over the restriction, they are not covered by insurance
if they take the chance to go over the bridge,” he said.
A further worry, however, is if works begins on the Knocklisheen Road, which is to happen to facilitate the northern distributor road.
Councillor Ryan said, “There is no date on that yet but they are making major progress on developing
that road. If it happens in the next couple of weeks, it would create a major headache for people
in the area because where would they go then?”
Local farmer and former IFA chairman Andrew Dundas said, “It would be really important
that when the job starts that there would be no delay with it because a total closure is going to make a huge difference to the traffic on those alternative routes, which are not fit for purpose”.