It has caused chaos on the quays, confusion on some bridges, and prompted calls for u-turns on new traffic flow arrangements on key routes for much of Cork City’s northbound traffic.
But as work on Cork City Council’s ambitious MacCurtain St Public Transport Scheme steps up a gear next week, the businesses at the heart of the project say they are prepared to endure another nine months of disruption because of the long-term pay off.
“Look, there is no good time to do this work,” said Philip Gillivan, the owner of the Shelbourne Bar on MacCurtain St.
“But we are happy with the consultation that we’ve had with City Hall on this project, which dates back over a decade.
“We’ve known about this for a long time, we’ve been looking for two-way traffic to be restored on the street for a long time.
“We know there will be short- to medium-term disruption and I’m fairly confident that it won’t be as severe as we first thought.
“They are putting in top-quality materials that will lead to a spectacular public realm regeneration.
And we think it’s going to be spectacular. I think we’ll have the best street in the city.”
Mr Gillivan was speaking after the city council issued a warning about significant new traffic arrangements that kick in from Tuesday, as the contractors move onto Coburg St and ever closer to MacCurtain St itself.
From Tuesday, Coburg St will close to through-traffic with local and emergency access being maintained.
This phase of the scheme will deliver upgraded footpaths, new bus stops and shelters, improved public lighting, road resurfacing, lining and other public realm improvements in Coburg St, Bridge St and MacCurtain St.
It’s all part of the MacCurtain St scheme — one of the single largest projects to be delivered under the council’s City Centre Movement Strategy (CCMS) which seeks to reallocate more road space to bikes and public transport and to manage through traffic on the city’s limited and already at-capacity road space.
While this latest CCMS project name is named after MacCurtain St, which will undergo a facelift and see the restoration of two-way traffic, it actually involves major work to several adjoining streets and some of the biggest changes in traffic management in the city centre in a generation — changes that have had an impact far beyond the works area.
Ultimately, it’s about improving the reliability and journey times of bus services and improving the connectivity of various cycling and pedestrian infrastructure along the city quays and at key streets and junctions.
It includes new bus lanes, bus-only right turns and bus priority at traffic lights, significant pedestrian improvements, and a new segregated two-way cycle route on the northern quays as well as massive investment in new public realm.
Work started on the project last year but motorists really began to feel the effects of the ongoing road works on the one hand, and the new traffic flow arrangements on the other, in the run-up to Christmas.
The restrictions on right turn movements on St Patrick’s Bridge and Christy Ring Bridge for northbound traffic caused major headaches — most of which have eased now.
It led to complaints from some city councillors before Christmas, which led to a briefing from the council’s head of infrastructural development Gerry O’Beirne in January, who reminded councillors that all of the work is part of the CCMS transport policy that they agreed some time ago.
He said the northbound traffic arrangements, which were the focus of complaints before Christmas, are “integral to the overall strategy”.
There has been extensive consultation, and the contractors have been praised for working with local businesses — for example, workers down tools and shut down heavy equipment when a funeral cortege passes through the area.
But there are another nine months of work before the scheme is complete, with Coburg St works starting next week, and the contractors moving on to the final phases at St Patrick’s Hill, MacCurtain St and Cathedral Walk within another few weeks.
Shane Clarke, chief executive of the VQ, which represents dozens of business in the area, said everyone was ready for the disruption.
“It’s like trying to rebuild your house while living in it. We are going to live with it for the next nine or 10 months because we know the results will be transformative,” he said.
The upgrade is the lynchpin of our business plan, and it will probably be the most important thing to happen to the street in the last two or three decades.
“We have a great mix of business and great architecture but crap public realm. I’ve seen this done in London and come next January, everyone will have forgotten about the works and we’ll have a great new street.”
The scheme has so far delivered safer pedestrian access from MacCurtain St to Shandon, about 1km of new cycle lanes providing connectivity from Shandon St to the Marina, and over 1.8kms of resurfaced roadway.
Some 10,000 sq m of new public realm and footpath upgrades have been completed, there have been upgrades to 11 traffic signalised junctions and pedestrian crossings, with seven new bus stops, a new northbound lane on Brian Boru Bridge and Brian Boru St and a new right turn introduced.