‘Route C’ as selected as the Emerging Preferred Option Corridor

Mixed feelings as N3 bypass route selected

Third period of public consultation will run up until September 13.

Towards the end 1968 the late Peter O’Reilly of Lisgrey hit upon a promising business opportunity. The increase in trade passing the roadside shop run by him and wife Mary encouraged Peter to contact the council about appointing petrol pumps and a suite of high level advertising signs.

A month to the day after, Peter got word back. His application had been ‘Refused’.

“They told him the [Virginia] bypass was going to be built there and the development might affect the route,” recalls son and local Fine Gael County Councillor, TP O’Reilly. “That’s how far back this goes. More than 50 years later we’re still talking about bypassing Virginia,” he chuckles.

TP sits next to Philip, his brother and proprietor of Lisgrey House, the business founded by their parents when they shifted their focus further up the road to establishing the now landmark roadhouse.

Of concern to Philip in particular is how access to his premises will relate to whatever layout is optioned after the so-called ‘Emerging Preferred Option Corridor’ (EPOC) was unveiled last week.

Linking Derver to Lisgrey, and running north of Lough Ramor, ‘Route C’ connects to Burrencarragh and the R195 Oldcastle road. It could include as many as three roundabouts, located at either end, with another forming a junction at the R178 Bailieborough Road unless overpassed.

With the preferred route announced, Barry Transportation, tasked with overseeing progress of the scheme through design and planning, have already begun a third period of public consultation, up until September 13.

“It’s as close to me as it can be,” remarks Philip, who hopes the picture- including a narrowing of buffer zones some 400 metres either side of the route- will become much clearer, and soon.

Donal Brady, who lives where the O’Reilly family once had their roadside shop, agrees.

He crosses his arms, unflinching at a maelstrom of lorries rattling past his boundary fence directly at Lisgrey Cross.

An “above average” size dairy farmer, Donal’s holding cuts a sizeable swath across the path intended by the new N3 route.

Depending on where his cows are, Donal moves livestock from fields either side of the L3012 Coppanagh Road to his milking parlour at the rear of his family home twice a day.

He accepts there’s no way the chosen bypass route won’t impact him or his family.

Still, Donal is pragmatic if nothing else. It’s not as if the EPOC came as a “bolt out of the blue”. It is, as he points out himself, “more or less” the same as the route proposed in 2003, but later canned.

“The bypass is essential, it has to happen. I’m not opposed to it, I’m in favour of it,” Donal tells the Celt. “It is going to impact us. But to what extent, we don’t know yet.”

Auctioneer and estate agent Fintan Cahill admits there are plenty of opinions “for and against”, including what bypassing “might” mean for the town of Virginia.

In Fintan’s opinion it could see Dublin’s commuter belt extended to areas such as Lavey, Killinkere, Stradone, and even as far as Cavan Town and Kilnaleck. He often finds people “reluctant” to buy further north because of the bottleneck Virginia has long since become.

The bottom line, Fintan argues, is “accessibility”, looking to the likes of Kells and Dunshaughlin as towns that thrived despite being bypassed.

At least €2m will be spent in the coming years moving the council’s bypass plan forward, which is being delivered in tandem with counterparts in Meath and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII).

The total estimated cost could reach as high as €130m.

In terms of value, Fintan sees nothing but “positives”, especially for the housing sector, where a typical three-bed semi-detached in Virginia, selling at €250,000, can reach as much as €300,000 in nearby Kells.

Fintan’s feeling is Virginia’s development has long since been “hijacked” by a separate issue entirely- the “failure” by Irish Water to invest in upgrading the local waste water treatment plant.

Plans for hundreds of new houses have been shelved or scrapped entirely after decisions by local planners were overturned on appeal to An Bord Pleanala.

Shane P O’Reilly, Independent member of Cavan County Council was, with TP O’Reilly, two of only five elected representatives who attended the meeting with Barry Transportation execs at the Hotel Kilmore earlier this month.

Cllr SP O’Reilly’s home of Mullagh is another area that looks set to benefit from the route selected. Unlike Virginia, the Cavan-Meath border village treatment plant has capacity for several hundred more homes yet to be built.

It’s estimated meanwhile the amount of land zoned residential in Virginia has the potential to grow the town three and a half times its current geographic size, and increase local population by more than 1,000.

Like TP and Fintan, Cllr SP O’Reilly believes investment in waste water treatment needs to happen sooner than even the proposed bypass. Otherwise, he says: “It would be putting the cart before the horse.”

Cllr SP O’Reilly, who was an elected member when the Belturbet N3 bypass was built, and remembers progress being held up for close to 18-months following the discovery of a rare snail habitat, observes there is still a “long way to go” before shovels begun hitting ground in Virginia.

Regardless, Kevin Lynch accepts there is no route that could have been picked that would not impact the family business he inherited from his father Ciaran.

The EPOC is “two fields above” the American Store’s backyard in Maghera. “We’re bypassed from [Derver] roundabout to Virginia. It is going to be difficult as a business along the road currently, but we’ll have to wait and see what the future brings.”

Kevin is aware some people are annoyed, given all the time that’s passed only to arrive at the same route as picked before. In the interim, dozens of families have been unable to get planning for fear it might interfere with the eventual route.

“The route they’ve picked is almost the exact same as the one they did 40 years ago. I think that’s what some are annoyed about, going through this whole process again, getting people’s hopes up, when in reality, nothing changed.”

Aerial surveys of the N3 Virginia Bypass area occurred earlier this year, and council contractors have begun Preliminary Ground Investigation works, with the next steps- Design and Environmental Evaluation- expected to conclude between the end of 2021 and early 2022.

Following this, subject to Government approval, a formal planning submission will be made and an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) sought (Summer/Autumn 2023). This will happen in tandem with Compulsory Purchase Orders being issued.

The seven-phase process could take up to 10 years before fully complete.

Though Kevin laments the possible loss of “passing trade” in future, as much as others, he sees the need for the bypass, a key component of the Government’s Ireland 2040 plan for the region.

Kevin and his family try to avoid going into Virginia town before 5pm if can be helped. If Kevin feels for anyone it’s those who often find themselves trapped by the line of traffic each day.

“There are some boys travelling to Drumard in Leitrim, Killeshandra, Carrigallen, and if you fly down the motorway only to land into Virginia, and then be sitting there for nearly 30 minutes, you have to feel for those people.”

Ray Cole, owner of Virginia Transport, is already 15 minutes waiting in traffic driving towards Virginia town when the Celt calls. The tailback is typical of any given Friday afternoon.

“It’s coming near a lot of people’s houses. That’s really worrying some people,” says Ray, who on the other hand eagerly regards unlocking the economic potential tied up in 83 acres of council-owned development land at Burrencarragh.

An unnamed US-based pet food company examined the site previously, and Ray admits he too approached the council about possible warehousing investment, only to be turned down. “It wouldn’t have got planning and that’s why we went to Kells. But we’d still like to develop [near Virginia] as well.

“People will be afraid [the bypass] will do damage to the town but I don’t think it will. I think, take the traffic out that’s there now, you’ll find it brings more people in, easier parking, all of that.”

A park-and-ride service at Whitegate, along with off-roads connecting Oldcastle and Ballyjamesduff roads, are all seen as essential by Cllr TP O’Reilly in “taking the pressure” of Virginia eventually.

If all goes according to plan, through the bypass Cllr TP O’Reilly sees Virginia growing to where it can undoubtedly claim the title of second biggest town in the Cavan.

“It’s the gateway to the county,” he states. “So it’s important it’s done right. They’ve definitely enough groundwork done at this stage.”