Construction work has begun on a €44 million road improvements scheme, which will see a new bypass of Kilalloe, Co Clare.

Under the scheme, a new bridge will be built across the Shannon between Killaloe and its neighbouring village of Ballina, Co Tipperary. There will also be major improvements to the regional road leading into Ballina and connecting it with the M7 motorway.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan today turned the sod on the project. It is hoped that the new road and bridge will be completed in 2024.

An 18th century heritage bridge has linked Killaloe and Ballina for centuries, but for decades it has been unable and unfit to cope with the volumes of traffic needing to use it.

It has been a well-known bottleneck for access for communities and visitors on both sides of the river, leading to heavy congestion and long waits in traffic. Its width was a danger to drivers and pedestrians, complicated further for heavy goods vehicles using the route.

A one-way traffic lights system introduced a number of years ago did little to improve matters and lead to more congestion.

The project includes building 6.7km of new roadway including a bypass of Killaloe village from the Limerick side, leading to a new bridge located 1km south of the existing bridge, and improving the regional R494 road which leads to Ballina from Birdhill, and connecting it with the M7 motorway.

It is expected that it will lead to a 45% reduction in congestion and open up the area for enhanced tourism development so it can capitalise further on its unique and scenic location at the mouth of Lough Derg for boating, cruisers and other water and lake activities.

It will also lead the way for further development of green cycle and pedestrian walkways on the proposed Limerick Scariff greenway.

Clare County Council engineer Sean Lenihan said there are up to 8,000 vehicles crossing the bridge every day and it was becoming increasingly unsafe for pedestrians to use the bridge.

This new scheme opens up the roadway entirely around both villages, and also leads to better connectivity to the railway station at Ballina to give another form of sustainable travel for the community and for visitors.

Cllr Tony O'Brian, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council who is a native of Killaloe, said it was a red-letter day for the region for which the communities have waited for many years.

"It is long awaited and much desired and has been years in the planning. Thankfully now this huge project is coming to fruition enhancing connectivity, which will open up this whole region for tourism and industrial development," he said.