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UK Government Pursues Irish Sea Bridge

Friday, February 21, 2020

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At a lobby briefing last week (Feb. 10), a spokesperson announced that U.K. officials are looking into British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s idea of building an Irish Sea between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Although no timeline has been released for the project, it is the first time the government has made any sort of announcement about pursuing the idea.

About the Proposed Irish Bridge

First suggested by Johnson in 2018 during his time as a foreign secretary, the idea of a 28-mile-long Irish Sea bridge was unwelcomed, with one expert claiming that “no sane contractor or responsible government" would go through with the proposal.

Although, Johnson’s proposal wasn’t the only idea to come forward. Also in 2018, the Democratic Unionist party came out in support of a separate bridge that would connect Northern Ireland and Scotland.

According to Scottish architect Alan Dunlop—who also originally suggested the Northern Ireland-Scotland bridge—the construction of the span would cost much less than Johnson’s proposal, and it would also establish more economic benefits in the two countries.

According to Dunlop, the amount of shipping traffic on the English Channel is economically prohibitive for building a span there. The architect estimated that a bridge in that area would cost 120 billion pounds ($169 billion), but a span between the two Celtic countries could be built for considerably less—a combined road and rail crossing that would cost between 15 billion pounds and 20 billion pounds.

The idea derives from the Øresund Bridge, which connects Denmark and Sweden, and has provided economic and social benefits to both countries.

The biggest obstacle to overcome would be a 2-mile-wide deep-sea trench off the coast of Scotland, but this could be overcome with a floating bridge design, noted the architect.

Johnson’s English Channel bridge would be between the Mull of Kintyre and Torr Head on the Antrim Coast, and while these two areas are only 12 miles apart and the sea is shallower, the four-hour drive from the central belt to Mull of Kintyre would deter the amount of traffic needed to justify the span.

However, the following year when Johnson entered Downing Street, his idea was revived with a mimicked price tag of 15 billion pounds—a number configured only after the United Kingdom would leave the European Union.

At the time, Johnson had requested that government officials look into where money could come from to fund the project and to evaluate the risks associated with the infrastructure—one worry was that of unexploded bombs located in the sea from World War II.

Additionally, James Duncan, a retired offshore engineer from Edinburgh noted that, “For a great part of the 22-mile route the water is more than 1,000 feet deep. It would require about 30 support towers at least 1,400 feet high to carry the road deck across the deepest part and above the shipping channel. In total the bridge would require 54 towers, of heights never achieved anywhere in the world.”

In September, Johnson requested that the Treasury and Department for Transport prepare a feasibility study examining the costs and risks of a possible link. And in December, the Democratic Unionist Party used the bridge idea as part of its manifesto, insisting that the infrastructure would return more value than HS2.

What’s Happening Now

For the first time since the original announcement of the country-connecting bridge idea, the government confirmed that it is actively working on the project.

While the plans for the project are still in the very early stages of development, reports claim that the construction of the infrastructure could be part bridge and part tunnel, as to avoid the unexploded bombs within the water.

Currently, the project has been estimated again, raising the costs to about 20 billion pounds. However, this price tag is expected to increase.

In regard to the project, opposition still follows as U.K. Chamber of Shipping spokesperson said, “There are already a range of ferry operators taking tourists and trade between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“Spending 15-20 billion pounds of taxpayers' money on a bridge simply to replicate what those ferries already do is unnecessary. The money could be far better spent improving road and rail links to our ports across the U.K."

Despite the lack of support, government officials report that they are moving forward with a “proper piece of work” on the proposal.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Construction; EU; Europe; Government; Government contracts; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Research and development; Upcoming projects

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