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Major setback for national cycleway through Shannonbridge

Six weeks after the opening of a new cycleway bridge in Athlone, plans to extend the route to Shannonbridge, and onward to Galway, have been dealt a serious setback with the main contractor suspending its work on the project.

RPS was appointed in October 2019 to provide provide engineering, planning, environmental and other services for the Athlone to Galway cycleway.

However, it stopped work at the beginning of this month and is now seeking to terminate its contract with Westmeath County Council because, it said, the project is "no longer financially viable" for the company.

The council said RPS's moves to step away from the project were prompted by the "complexity and scale" of the preferred route for the cycleway, which follows an indirect, 200km, path from Athlone to Galway.

The preferred route west of Athlone was published in late March of this year, and takes in Shannonbridge, Portumna, Gort, Kinvara and Oranmore before reaching Galway city.

Westmeath County Council is managing the development of the amenity, which has been met with opposition from some landowners in East Galway over many years.

While the local authority said it still intends to eventually submit a planning application for the cycleway to An Bord Pléanala, the possible departure of RPS from the project could cause a significant delay to this process.

In an update in recent days, the council said, "Due to the complexity and scale of the 200km preferred route, together with upward market pressures in recent years, RPS have advised Westmeath County Council that the project is no longer financially viable for the company."

It said RPS took this decision, "having regard to the fixed price tender sum for the contract as signed in 2019," and that the company has "sought mutual termination under the contract" with immediate effect.

"To minimise any delay on the project, and in particular the completion of the design and environmental evaluation phase of the scheme, the parties have agreed to now enter into a process to deal with the issues to hand."

The council went on to say that, along with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, it was "exploring various approaches to identify the most appropriate and effective mechanism for progressing and delivering the scheme through the design and environmental evaluation processes".

It's not known whether the council can now agree new terms with RPS in order for the company to resume its work, or whether it will have to go to tender again for the consultancy services required to advance the project.

A statement issued by three groups opposing the cycleway in county Galway said they believed now was the time to "call a halt" to the whole project, arguing that it was "simply not viable".