Why is a 2.1km section of the Royal Canal Greenway costing €30.8 million?

— Work in underway on Phase 3 of the project between Phibsborough and North Strand Road.

Comment and Analysis: So, they are just widening the path, why is costing so much? There’s no doubt that it seems an eye-watering amount of money for a 2.1km walking and cycling route in Dublin, but it’s simplistic to extreme to say that they are just widening the towpath.

The simple answer is that Phase 3 is a more complicated project than just path widening. It’s being built in a confined space in an urban area and, given construction inflation, it would have been much cheaper to build if it wasn’t delayed so much since its approval by councillors in 2015.

IrishCycle.com asked Dublin City Council for a breakdown of the project costs, a spokesperson for the council said; “A high level breakdown of the Project costs can be found in the Projects’ Business Plan which is available in the link below. We expect that most of the queries listed are explained within this document.”

The council added: “The details of how the Contractor priced the works, such as ramps, the bridge and trees are of a commercially sensitive nature and cannot be published at this stage. However, we would like to note that this construction works Contract was procured through a competitive etenders tendering procedure, and the most economically advantageous tenderer from the market was chosen to construct the works.”


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As noted above, a large chunk of the project’s €30.8m price tag is set aside for contingency and risk, nearly €5m and just over €2m respectively.

The Projects’ Business Plan states: “At this stage, the main update to the risk register has been the addition of a risk item associated with inflation; whilst the main contract costs are known, current market conditions give rise to the possibility of emergency relief or ex-gratia payments.”

And a contingency assessment found the need for a contingency of 10.7%. So, the final price tag may be under €30.8 million if inflation eases and no major issues happen with the project — those, however, are big ifs.

As well as looking at the wider factors, it’s worth actually saying what the project involves:

  • At the Phibsborough/Glasnevin end of the project, the project includes a raised junction platform across not just the Phibsborough Road towards Phase 4 of the project, but this raised table surface will also stretch across the junction of Whitworth Road. Hopefully calming the junction a bit.
  • As a side note: The kissing gates will be removed along the project’s length.
  • The greenway route then starts on the northern bank of the canal between the waterway and the active railway in an open cutting several metres below the level of the greenway path, this nearly 600-metre stretch is maybe one of the most complicated sections of the build.
  • At Lock 3 (just east of Mountjoy and west of the Drumcondra Road) there’s a new walking and cycling bridge to bring the greenway to the south bank of the canal. The contractors will have to contend with building around the railway and waterway.
  • Along this section and, lesser so beyond, the project includes the felling of 45 of the 176 existing trees along the route — some of the tree removals are needed for the greenway and the council says that other trees are in poor condition. Not only will all of these be replaced with semi-mature trees but also extra trees will be added and protection will be added to trees which will remain.
  • The project also includes the planting of extra greenery along the water’s edge and hedgerows along the boundary of some of the wider sections of the project.
  • After this, the project will include a new walking and cycling across the 6-lane Drumcontra Road/Dorset Street Lower.
  • On the east side of the main road, there’s quite a dip from road level to towpath level and this is to be further addressed by a plan for an even more accessible ramp than the originally planned ramp.
IMAGE: The east side of the route east of the Drumcontra Road/Dorset Street Lower.
  • 400 metres after the last road crossing is the Russell Street Bridge where the greenway will ramp up to road level on both sides.
  • After another 400 metres or so, it will also ramp up (although it’s not as much of a height difference) to Ballybough Road/Summerhill Parade.
  • The project will end under 300 metres after this at Newcomen Bridge on Strand Road where it will connect to the Clontarf to City Centre route and go onto the Docklands via the already opened Royal Canal Phase 2.

If you want any more information, there’s a lot more on the project page on the council’s website.

Regardless of all of the complications and costs, the finished product may be below expectations for some. A presentation to councillors made in January and the cross-sections in IrishCycle.com’s previous article, show that much of the greenway will have a footpath width of just 1.5 metres and a cycle path width of just 2.5-3 metres.

1.5 metres for a footpath and 2.5 metres for a cycle path is inadequate for this kind of urban area.

The balancing of retaining more trees and working beside the water has meant a reduction of the greenway even along the wider section of it between Phibsborough and Drumcondra. A report on trees notes that design and construction mitigations relating to trees includes the “Reduction Greenway width from 4.5m width to 4.0m” and “Raise the level of the greenway, to reduce digging into root systems”.

There are other measures to lessen the impact of trees, but these factors reduce the usable space for greenway users by narrowing the path and having a fall-off at its edge.

It’s hard to know if a shared surface would be better in such an urban area or will the approach of two paths with a level different even work, especially when the canal gets busy during the summer. Most of the time people walking will likely overspill into the green bank.

The narrowing is to be done to the strange extent that the footpath and cycle path will be wider on the narrower sections of the canal — the cycle path will be narrowed to 2.5m between Phibsborough and Drumcondra while east of the Drumcondra Road it will generally be 3 metres wide. The widest section of the footpath will also be 2m where the canal seems more constrained.

So, while it’s a complicated project and there’s wider pressure on construction costs, defending the costs might be a bitter pill for some to swallow given the nature of the end product. In the context of the constrained nature of the greenway, it is very good news that the city council is approaching its Active Travel network plan with the closeby North Circular Road also acting as a primary route, which was not the case in the GDA Cycle Network Plan.

6 comments

  1. It’s a pity the footpath is narrowing to 1.5 metres which is below the recommendation of 2 metres for safe passage of vulnerable users buggies wheelchair rollators. The narrowing of the cycle lane will also exclude accessible bikes from passing each other safely

    Reply
  2. Get real! Still a crazy amount of money!! Like everything in this country. Compare this to the new bicycle parking facility (7000 bicycles) underneath the water outside Amsterdam centraal train station which took a reasonable 4 years to build and only €50 million.

    Reply
  3. The worst section of the Royal is between the 12th lock and Porterstown along the Deep Cutting. It is impassable for cyclists. The money would be more usefully spent on this section. I know it is not in the Dublin City Council area but it is in dire need of attention for the Royal Canal Greenway concept to properly work.

    Reply
    • Phrase 3 in Dublin City has had approval since 2015, I cannot recall any significant objections and it’s been ready to build for a while now with a previous tender process failing.

      The Deep Sinking section in Fingal’s Dublin 15 area has not long ago finished a round of public consultation, is highly controversial, and has no planning approval yet. It’s nowhere near the construction stage for money to be spent on it.

      Reply
  4. They are chopping all the trees down for some stupid cycle track. We’ll done. Let’s improve our town by destroying nature and slapping more tarmac on.

    Reply
    • @Peter — they are not chopping down all of the trees, and they are replacing any tree taken down with a semi-mature tree and also adding other greenery including in the water, hedgerow and another small planting.

      Reply

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