Sunday 22 October 2017

Motorists face €6.50 toll to ease congestion on the M50

Dublin's M 50.
Pic Frank Mc Grath
Dublin's M 50. Pic Frank Mc Grath

Paul Melia and Fiach Kelly

MOTORISTS using the country’s busiest road face the prospect of having to pay up to €6.50 in tolls – more than twice the current rate – as part of plans to reduce overcrowding at peak times.

A major study carried out for the National Roads Authority (NRA) recommends says that five tolling points should be introduced across Dublin’s M50 to reduce demand from motorists making short trips.

However, the NRA faces a battle to implement the charges, as with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has stated his opposition to the plans for now, warning that they would will push traffic into residential areas.

Capacity on the motorway is being severely reduced because of the numbers of people using it, often when there are alternative routes available.

Although the road was upgraded just three years ago at a cost of €1bn, the report says that “safe operational capacity” is being exceeded at peak times on some sections, including the connections with the M1 to the North, the N4 to Lucan and the West and the M7 to Cork and Kildare.

Unless demand is reduced, congestion will be “commonplace” within the next decade, it warns.

The report, which has been seen by the Irish Independent and which will be presented to local councillors today, also says:

- Journey times are becoming less reliable and traffic is moving more slowly because so many vehicles useare using the road.

- Motorists are being forced to queue to enter and exit the motorway at peak times.

- “Safe operational capacity” is being exceeded on some links at peak hours.

- A series of measures is needed to reduce traffic volumes, including varying the speed limit at certain sections and reducing the numbers coming on to the road at key times by having slower traffic signals at junctions.

- Five tolling points should also be introduced – between Ballymun and Finglas; the current point at Blanchardstown; at Parkwest between the N4 and Red Cow; between Firhouse and Ballinteer; and between Sandyford and Carrickmines.

- The tolls should be €1.30 each. The maximum charge would be €6.50 per car if all five points were passed, which would affect 4,400 drivers a day – 1.5pc of total users.

The study was a condition of planning permission for the upgrade, which was granted in 2008.

An Bord Pleanala told the NRA that it had to produce a plan to manage traffic volumes not later than three years after the M50 upgrade was completed to “protect the traffic capacity”.

It is expected that up to 81pc of all motorists will pay a toll if multi-point tolling is introduced. This compares with 39pc at present and it would remove one in 10 vehicles from the road.

The report will raise major difficulties for the Government, and in particular Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who has already ruled out extra tolls on the country’s network.

This is because it cannot be seen to allow the motorway, which was upgraded at huge expense to the taxpayer, to return to gridlock with the knock-on economic impacts that would follow.

However, nor can it cannot be seen to penalise motorists who have already been hit with increases in motor tax, higher fuel prices, more expensive tolls and deteriorating roads.

Last night, Mr Varadkar ruled out the introduction of multi-point tolling for now, saying he did not think it was a “good idea”.

He said any hikes can only be in line with inflation.

The Minister for Transport and the Government have to give permission for new tolls, which means changes on the M50 are unlikely to happen while Mr Varadkar is minister.

“I do not think multi-point tolling is a good idea,” Mr Varadkar said when asked for comment by the Irish Independent on the NRA M50 report.

Mr Varadkar is a TD for Dublin West, one of the constituencies which the M50 runs through, and says a wider examination of congestion in the capital is needed.

He added: “It will only push traffic off the M50, on to other roads and through local communities,” he said.

“At present, congestion is not the problem that it was during the boom, but it will re-emerge as an issue as the economy recovers.

Upgraded

“At that point, we will need a joined-up solution to deal with congestion across the city – and not just on the M50.”

The report says there has been a 26pc increase in traffic volumes on the road since September 2008, with 320,000 trips a day made on the M50.

“If traffic on the M50 continues to grow, within 10 years congestion will again be commonplace,” it predicts the report says.

“Without the intervention of demand-management measures, the functionality and safety of the M50 would deteriorate, journey-time reliability would diminish and this would have negative consequences for economic activity.”

The NRA refused to comment on the report, saying it would be made public tomorrow.

A final version will be published in September.

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