Spanish construction logos are among the first to be seen by visitors to the Irish Republic as they drive into Dublin from the city’s airport. A blend of funding, design and construction expertise has secured for the Spanish a large and growing slice of Ireland’s infrastructure market.

A major redesign eases construction at Dublin’s N3-M50 interchange
Photo: W.S. Atkins PLC.
A major redesign eases construction at Dublin’s N3-M50 interchange.

Crossing the airport road is a roughly $360-million project to upgrade the M50 toll road, sweeping around the west of Dublin. Spanish firms control 85% of the consortium that is widening 23 kilometers of the highway under a design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) contract lasting 35 years.

Clues to the Spanish approach to international expansion are evident on the M50. In creating bid-winning projects, “the Spanish influence is very important in terms of innovation of design and added value,” says Richard Neuling, an associate director in the republic’s division of W.S. Atkins plc, Epsom, U.K.

The M50 is one of the six highway DBFOs the National Roads Authority (NRA) awarded since March 2003 to teams that include firms from Spain. Only the remaining three highway DBFO contracts signed are devoid of Spanish interests.

Prospects for Irish successes of Spanish contractors seem bright. Public finances are in a “dire” state following the “Celtic Tiger’s” economic collapse in the banking crisis, says Gerard Cahillane, head of finance and operations at the National Development Finance Agency. The government is leaning increasingly toward public-private partnerships to plug its infrastructure funding gap, he adds.

The next two NRA highways in the republic’s infrastructure pipeline have Spaniards in bidding lists for DBFOs. The N11 and N17/18 are together worth well over $1 billion. Spaniards also are on the short list to bid in the next few months for Dublin’s new 18-km Metro North, with 15 stations, half of them below ground.

Spanish firms also are well placed to bid for Dublin’s estimated $3-billion Dart underground regional railroad link, with twin 7-km-long, large-diameter tunnels. The 9.2-km-long urban project is due to open for bidding in April as a 25-year DBFO, says Colm Reynolds, PPP commercial manager for the government’s transportation agency, Córas Iompair Éireann.


One of the most successful Spanish bidding teams so far is the joint venture led by Madrid-based infrastructure developer/operator Itinere Infraestructuras, with Global Vía Infraestructuras. They have long-term DBFOs for both the M50 and the country’s second-largest highway job, the 58-km N6.

Global is half-owned by the construction group Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas S.A (FCC). Among FCC’s other international infrastructure assets are most of the U.K.’s major airports. Itinere is wholly owned by Sacyr Vallehermoso S.A.

In both DBFOs, the Spanish firms each control 42.5% of the special-purpose companies, while...