Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bridge to Nowhere

Throughout the world, bridges are some of the most iconic landmarks that man has built. Think of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Venice's Ponte Vecchio and the Pont Neuf in Paris. Add to that our own Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin, the Barrow Rail Bridge and the Boyne Bridge on the M1 and you can see that even in Ireland we have some fantastic constructions. Each of these bridges has a purpose of connecting communities, enabling safer and faster passage or even to make money through tolls.

Unfortunately not all bridges are built with such noble purposes. There is a history of bridges to nowhere - expensive, pork barrel projects that serve no purpose except for politicians to claim that they have delivered infrastructure for their voters, even if the infrastructure is unwanted. The most famous of these edifices was never actually built - the Gravina Island bridge in Alaska. This project was to cost almost $500M and connect an island with 50 inhabitants to the mainland and shot to fame during the last US presidential election when it turned out that Sarah Palin was strongly in favour of the project.

With that in mind, it came as a surprise to me last week on holidays in Donegal to discover the Harry Blaney bridge that joins Fanad to Carrigart across Mulroy Bay. A little research determined that the bridge was opened in 2008 by Brian Cowen at a cost of about €20M, quite reasonable when compared to Gravina Island.

On the south side, the bridge is connected to the Carrigart to Milford road by a new sweeping stretch of tarmac. The road then rises high into the air over Mulroy Bay and lands in Fanad in the middle of nowhere. There is a good stretch of road up the hill from the bridge for perhaps 300m at which point the road turns into a rural backroad, no more than 3m in width all the way to the R246 about 10km away. I had the pleasure of sitting by the bridge on a nice sunny morning for an hour while I read the newspaper. During this time about 30 cars crossed the bridge along with 3 German tourists on bicycles. The only other traffic was 4 lorries carrying materials for the road widening that is currently underway.

Certainly a more picturesque location or bridge you couldn't imagine. At times I felt like I was in a scene from Sim City where someone had just started laying out their city with a crossing point. I'm sure the bridge is of benefit to the community. It brings people in that part of Fanad close to the shops, post office and Garda station in Carrigart and substantially shortens the distance from the beaches in the north and east of the Fanad peninsula to holiday makers based in Downings and Dunfanaghy but you really have to wonder was this just another example of parish pump politics in action or was there a real demand for the link to be built.

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