THE €1 billion M20 Cork-Limerick motorway moved a step closer with the Government formally seeking tenders for the design of the critical route.
The motorway development will rank as the biggest roads project and one of the biggest infrastructural investments undertaken by Ireland to 2028.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell confirmed that the tender for the design of the 105km motorway route has now formally gone to tender.
The €8m contract will see design engineers contracted to complete the route outline and bring the mammoth project to An Bord Pleanala.
At that point, contractors for the construction of the motorway will be appointed.
"This is a very good news story - the M20 is back on track," Sen O'Donnell said.
"This involves a formal tender process for €8m to design the motorway and take it as far as the An Bord Pleanala stage."
"The M20 is required for a number of reasons - there have been a number of accidents along the N20 so it is clearly needed from a safety point of view."
Sen O'Donnell said the M20 was also vital given efforts by Cork and Limerick to attract major international events such as the Ryder Cup bid by Adare Manor in Limerick.
Last year the Government were accused of treating Limerick and Cork residents like "fools" after allocating just €1m for the key motorway development - which equates to the construction cost of just 125 metres of the 105km route.
Cork and Limerick Co Councils had expressed concerns that, at the current
rate of project funding, the motorway linking the two cities may be stalled far beyond the 2023 target.
Councillors in both Cork and Limerick had reacted angrily to the continuing failure to provide major funding for the project - with Councillor Frank O'Flynn warning that delays could threaten the long-term economic development of Ireland's second and third cities.
"This is absolutely vital - how an earth can cities like Cork and Limerick act as a counterweight to Dublin if they aren't even properly connected by road," he said.
Ireland South MEP Sean Kelly also expressed frustration at what he said, up until now, was "a lack of urgency" over one of the most strategic motorway projects
now facing the State.
Cork and Limerick business interests had also expressed alarm at proposals to save €340m on the motorway by diverting it through Tipperary along part of the existing M8 Cork-Dublin motorway.
Mr Kelly said Ireland had to demonstrate its commitment to regional development.
"We were quite happy to use European funding to build motorways connecting Dublin with the cities of Ireland," he said.
"But there seems to be no urgency in connecting the cities with one another."
"You have the second biggest city in Ireland, Cork, not being connected by motorway with the second biggest city in Munster, Limerick."
"That is actually a no-brainer - it has to happen. The sooner it happens the better."
There were growing fears that construction work on the proposed €1bn M20 motorway from Cork through Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville, Croom and Raheen to Limerick may not begin for almost a decade.
Government planners had examined the Tipperary 'short cut' option on the basis that it would also offer the double advantage of creating a key segment of the M24/N24 Limerick-Tipperary-Rosslare motorway.
While no formal proposal has yet been made, it is understood Government planners are considering alternatives to the existing M20 route through Mallow, Charleville, Croom and Raheen because of its estimated €840m to €1 billion construction cost.
A Cork-Limerick route through Mallow, Charleville and Croom is 105km long.
However, a spur from Cahir in Tipperary, off the main M8 Dublin-Cork motorway, to Limerick is just 63km.
At an average motorway construction cost of €8m per km, according to Engineers Ireland figures, that would represent a cost saving of €340m for the Government.
However, whereas the direct Cork-Limerick route is 105km, any new diverted motorway via Cahir would involve a total distance between Ireland's second and third cities of 141km.
Cork and Limerick politicians and business associations have insisted that only a Cork-Mallow-Charleville-Croom-Limerick corridor for the M20 was workable.
The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) warned that a motorway linking Ireland’s
second and third cities was vital if regional urban centres were to act as a strategic counter-weight to Dublin.
Both cities have campaigned for the motorway for the past 25 years.
Sections of the existing N20 route between Cork and Limerick have been described as amongst the most accident-prone stretches of primary roadway in Ireland.
The section between Mallow and Charleville is believed to have the highest rate of fatal accidents of any route in Ireland.
Sections of the N20 around Blarney and Waterloo have also been the focus of multiple serious accidents the latest of which occurred on Monday when a US tourist was seriously injured at exactly the same spot where two US tourists were killed last September.
IBEC economist, Fergal O’Brien, warned last year it was particularly astonishing that Ireland wasn’t availing of historically low interest rates to tackle major capital projects that would have obvious long-term economic benefits.
“The M20 is a perfect candidate for a PPP approach,” he said.
The proposed motorway aims to slash 30 minutes from the commute time between Ireland’s second and third largest cities and remove some of the most dangerous stretches of single-carriageway primary road in the country.
It was hoped the motorway would also ease congestion with major bypasses of towns like Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville and enhance access to areas like Croom and Raheen.