Friday 23 February 2018

€1.7bn roads investment programme could soften impact of Brexit

Edgar Morgenroth of the ESRI
Edgar Morgenroth of the ESRI
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

A €1.7bn roads investment programme will stave off the worst effects of a hard Brexit and hugely improve transport links between Donegal, the north-west and Dublin.

A 90km motorway between Derry and the Border at Monaghan, coupled with an upgrade of the main Belfast-Derry road, can be delivered at competitive prices and will deliver a major boost to business fearful of delays brought about through border controls and possible customs checks.

Among the transport projects required is the A5 motorway between Derry and Aughnacloy in Tyrone.

This which would service traffic from Donegal travelling to the Republic.

An upgrade of the A6 between Northern Ireland's two biggest cities is also proposed, coupled with construction of underpasses and new junctions around Belfast and the upgrade of some Border roads in the Republic.

Irish Rail and Translink, which jointly operate the Dublin-Belfast railway line, are also undertaking a feasibility project to identify necessary improvements for the line to boost passenger numbers and reduce journey times.

They are also considering the introduction of more frequent services.

Business lobby group Ibec and its Northern Irish counterpart CBI say that an all-island infrastructure project pipeline, which includes roads and rail north and south of the Border, could spur balanced regional development as the UK leaves the EU.

Read More: Expect longer journey times as transport links at risk

"Enhancing transport infrastructure across the island is a priority for advancing and protecting interests on both sides of the Border, post-Brexit," its 'Connected' report, which sets out a range of infrastructure projects, said.

Experts suggest that while the Republic invested heavily in roads during the Celtic Tiger, levels of investment in the North are way behind.

This has resulted in few motorways and dual carriageways serving the six counties.

This has knock-on implications for hauliers transporting goods from the north-west into the North, and onwards to Dublin, as well as the impact on motorists.

The Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) has warned that many roads in Northern Ireland are already substandard.

It also says that if hauliers were subject to customs checks, improvements would have to be made to allow them to make up time.

"Roads are a big issue, and will become a bigger one," IRHA president Verona Murphy has said.

"We already have delays due to lack of upgrades, and the infrastructure needs to be improved so that delays are paid back.

"If we're going to be stopped at customs, there will need to be improvements so time can be made up.

"It's part of our proposals that the infrastructure needs to improve. We have a serious proposal to present to the Finance Minister and will be seeking a meeting.

"It's to keep the sector viable and competitive.

"We would be in full agreement with a campaign to invest in these roads."

But economists have suggested that many of these projects should have already been completed.

And they say that there is no reason for taxpayers in the south to pay.

"I think the A6 (road between Belfast and Derry) is Northern Ireland's most important project," associate research professor with the ESRI, Edgar Morgenroth, said.

"How can you have the two largest cities not connected? That is something that Northern Ireland should pay for."

But he also says that in some cases, traffic volumes do not justify the enormous investment required, and that alternatives will have to be considered.

"The routing of the A5 (Derry to the Border) is not ideal.

"If you go north of Monaghan town, there is no volume. You could go another route to connect more places.

"It also shouldn't be so expensive.

"An alternative could be a really good quality road down to Sligo from Donegal, and upgrade the Sligo to Dublin road to a motorway.

"If you think very carefully about it, the biggest lobby for this road is from Donegal, which is a remote part of Ireland.

"If they want connectivity to airports, Belfast is a lot quicker and if you build the A6 you get that."

But key to any investment decision will be an analysis as to whether hauliers will use a new road.

They are already price-sensitive, he says, citing the numbers travelling north through Slane instead of paying the toll on the M1 motorway.

"I would re-assess investment needs, particularly in relation to Donegal. Don't build anything unless hauliers use it."

Irish Independent

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