— Cycle Dublin to Athlone “almost entirely off-road” by 2018, promises Ross.
— Mullingar to Athlone now second longest greenway at 44km.
A new funding process where local councils can apply for national support to build greenways is to open later this year, the transport and tourism minister, Shane Ross, said yesterday when he officially opened a short extension to the Athlone to Mullingar Greenway towards the centre of Athlone town.
“We are seeing many more greenways opening and I am being asked constantly about the possibility of addition funding for Greenways. I am pleased to announce that my Department is currently working on a public consultation document that will be published after Easter that will inform our greenways strategy,” said Minister Ross. “This Strategy will be finalised by the end of the year and I expect to be announcing a new competitive round of funding later this year.”
The route extension the minister opened yesterday means the western ending point of the Athlone to Mullingar Greenway is now closer to Athlone town centre.
The route is branded as the ‘Old Rail Trail’ and runs on the disused Athlone to Mullingar railway alignment. It’s new length of 44km makes the route the second longest greenway currently opened in Ireland — slightly shorter than the recently opened Waterford Greenway.
The official opening event yesterday was disrupted by striking bus drivers and it had little of the fanfare of the recent Waterford launch — while it was only a short extension, the council’s official Twitter account didn’t even mention the event. The extension was also open to the public for some time.
The route now extents 2.2km west of its former ending point at the Athlone suburb of Garrycastle:
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The new ending point is on the Ballymahon Road (R915) around 300 meters north of Athlone’s combined railway and bus station. The Department of Transport calls this “Whitegates”, but the ending point is actually at the white gates — a reference to the old railway level crossing gates on the side of the road.
It is planned that the route will contuine west and cross the River Shannon on a new bridge.
The Department of Transport said that Westmeath County Council was awarded €496,187 in July, 2016 from a reallocation of National Cycle Network funding to complete the project.
In a press release, Minister Ross said: “Athlone and Westmeath are very much at the centre of things when it comes to greenways – we have the continuation of the Royal Canal Greenway from Mullingar to Ballymahon in Co Longford as well as the Old Rail Trail and we are working on completing the sections in Kildare and Meath so that by 2018 it will be possible to cycle from Dublin to Athlone almost entirely off-road.”
He added: “Our ambition is to complete the greenway all the way to Galway and I hope that those who are currently opposed to greenways see the benefits to the entire community that the Old Rail Trail has brought to those in County Westmeath and realise the benefits that could accrue to Galway and Roscommon.”
The south Dublin TD recently said that the Dublin to Galway greenway consultation process was flawed and ordered a review.
Ross’s fellow Independent Alliance TD, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, , who represents the Longford/Westmeath area, said: “The greenway will attract new people to visit the area. It is also providing an amenity for local people to walk and cycle on and it is also making it easier and safer for people to cycle to work and school.”
The extension which officially opened yesterday has street lights:
— WestmeathCoCo (@westmeathcoco) March 7, 2017