From births to heart attacks, it's been busy first five years for tunnel
IN its first five years, the Dublin Port Tunnel has seen it all -- minor pile-ups, heart attacks, births, wildlife walking along the 4.5km road, even a carrier pigeon getting stuck in the ventilation system.
Since the first car passed through in December 2006, more than 20 million vehicles have followed and despite its annual €5m deficit, the National Roads Authority (NRA) is proud of its achievement.
Despite running €269m over budget to eventually cost €804m, the NRA maintains that the tunnel saves the capital's economy "hundreds of millions" every year by removing heavy goods vehicles from the city centre and improving traffic efficiency.
It has served the city virtually without incident.
There have been about four accidents, none of which have cost a life.
"When we first opened you had a number of people who weren't used to it and they would stop in a layby and park and get out and take a picture," revealed Alex Young, chief operations officer of Egis Ireland, the company which runs the Port Tunnel.
"We had a lady from Castleknock in 2007 who turned (her car) around. She was a little confused; she was only in about 800 metres."
The tunnel has its own specially modified fire truck to deal with any eventuality and its team has been trained in Switzerland.
"In February last year, we had three lorries that had tipped into each other and we had to deal with it," said Mr Young. "The fire brigade and gardai were called and then, at the back of the queue (of waiting traffic), a gentleman had a suspected heart attack. But there has never been a serious accident in here; it will happen at some stage and we have to be prepared."
But traffic volumes have not lived up to estimates. It was thought up to 23,000 vehicles might use it each day but the real number has been just 16,000.
However, the tunnel is about to exceed five million journeys for 2011 alone, its busiest year to date, and the increase in truck volumes is an "economic indicator" of improving trade.
Gardai have prosecuted around 300 people for driving offences -- the fastest single speed clocked was 174kmh.
And in the control room nearby, banks of screens monitor everything in the tunnel. As Mr Young explained: "If someone picks up a fire extinguisher or a phone we will know about it immediately."