Fears broadband overspend could hit crucial project to upgrade Dunkettle Interchange

Fears broadband overspend could hit crucial project to upgrade Dunkettle Interchange
Minister for Finance Public Expenditure & Reform Paschal Donohoe TD speaking to media on the National Broadband plan at the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

CONCERNS have been raised that the Dunkettle Interchange redevelopment could suffer delays because of the spiralling cost of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

Despite assurances from Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe that funding would not be pulled from other projects to cover the costs of the €3bn broadband plan, there is growing unease that some capital developments could face setbacks.  

The chief executive of Cork Chamber Conor Healy said it would be “unacceptable" if the €100m upgrade of the busy Dunkettle Interchange was delayed because of the overrun of the broadband plan.

The Dunkettle Interchange, which links the M8, N25 and the N40, carries up to 100,000 vehicles a day and is due to be upgraded with new free flow lanes to ease congestion.

Traffic at the Dunkettle Interchange
Traffic at the Dunkettle Interchange

Mr Healy said that the NBP has been on the agenda for a long time and providing broadband is very welcome, but not at a cost to Cork.

“Businesses need connectivity and it will assist employment in rural areas, that being said there has been a commitment made to key infrastructure projects such as Dunkettle Interchange, N22 link and Cork to Limerick motorway.

“Those commitments have been made and anything that potentially threatens these key projects will not be accepted.

"If the Government are serious about Cork 2040 and having a thriving second city region, then those commitments need to be honoured regardless of funding committed to the NBP.” 

The €3bn broadband plan is said to be drawing funding from five Government Departments which will provide 80% of the total capital spend.

The Department of Transport accounts for 20%. That figure of €200m would be equal to the entire allocation for regional road restoration improvements, which includes the Dunkettle Interchange.

The NBP has been criticised for its cost and documents show that Secretary-General Robert Watt and his officials strongly recommended the Government did not agree to the deal on grounds of affordability, risk and value for money.

"The state is taking an unprecedented risk with this project," Mr Watt warned.

"Poor take-up of the service or emerging new technological solutions in this fast moving market could leave the state having funded a stranded, or potentially obsolete asset - an asset that the state will not even own despite investing up to three billion euro in it."

The advice was outlined in a letter by Mr Watt, Brendan Ellison and other officials to the Department of Finance.

The officials maintained there were alternatives that could deliver rural broadband and would offer better value for money for the taxpayer.

A consortium led by Granahan McCourt was announced this week as the preferred bidder after Cabinet approval.

It was the only remaining bidder for the contract. 

The cost of the project was originally estimated at between €355 million and €512 million.

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