Blue bridge is no more

There it is, gone. The saga of Portlaoise’s landmark blue bridge came to an end last weekend, when in the space of 24 hours, it was cut up, craned onto trucks and shipped off to a Dublin scrapyard.

There it is, gone. The saga of Portlaoise’s landmark blue bridge came to an end last weekend, when in the space of 24 hours, it was cut up, craned onto trucks and shipped off to a Dublin scrapyard.

The demolition was forced by Laois County Council as part of planning approval for Harcourt Development’s refurbishment of the shopping centre. Dublin company Hegarty Demolition did the job last weekend. In total, a team of ten men worked from Saturday evening to Sunday evening, cutting the 150 tonne bridge into sections before transporting the steel and concrete to their depot for recycling.

A hardy few spectators stayed through the night, and were treated to a fireworks display in the early hours of Sunday morning as angle grinders sliced through the girders, a spectacular final farewell for the controversial bridge.

“The job went smoothly, it was an ordinary job for us. The price of the steel was a small part of the overall cost of demolition,” said Liam Hogan, MD of Hegarty Demolition, who declined to reveal how much it cost Harcourt Developments.

The steel bridge was built in the late 1980’s as part of the original planning for Laois Shopping Centre. It was designed to continue into the carpark of the shopping centre but this was never done, and it remained largely unused, with most people opting to use the pedestrian crossing at its base. A landmark for motorists, it was festooned with posters for every election, while it was mostly children who bothered to take the long way around and run across it.

Council sources say the remaining pedestrian crossing will now be upgraded to compensate for the loss of the bridge.

Local TD Charlie Flanagan, whose solicitors office was beside the structure, was delighted to see the back of it.

“It was the most hideous and inappropriate structure ever built in Laois. It never fulfulled its purpose. As constructed at the time it was a huge departure from the original design. It was meant to facilitate people with shopping trollies but it failed in every respect, it was impossible to push a trolley up it. The only possible use I ever experienced with it was for election posters,” he said, adding that he conducted a survey of the bridge ten years ago, showing use of it was negligible.

“After it was built, Laois County Council in their wisdom put a set of traffic lights at it. The County Manager (Michael Deegan) told me it was a ‘belt and braces’ job. It was expensive to maintain, to paint it would have cost in excess of E100,000, and it was never done. I hope we’re closing the chapter on what was Laois’ blue elephant,” Dep Flanagan said.

But Dep Flanagan’s Fine Gael colleague, Cllr Willie Aird, was not impressed that the bridge is gone.

“I’m very disappointed, I felt it wasn’t doing any harm. The old part of Portlaoise is haemmorhaging footfall, they’re trying to encourage people over, why take down infrastructure? The right thing to do would have been to extend it to the shopping centre to encourage people over. I want to know, how much is available now to put in a safe pedestrian crossing in its place,” said the Portlaoise councillor.

See pages 4 and 5 for more.