Ibec's €12bn cross-border infrastructure plan launched
A €12bn programme to upgrade the transport network across the island should be rolled out regardless of last month's Brexit vote, according to the two main business groups in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.
Employers' group Ibec, in the south, and the Northern Ireland branch of the UK's Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have jointly launched a major report setting out proposals to upgrade the all-island transport network on a phased basis in order to cope with a future population of 10 million by 2050.
They warned that the Brexit vote demanded a "new, concerted and co-ordinated policy response" and that all-island investment must remain a priority.
The director of policy and corporate affairs at Ibec, Mary Rose Burke, said piecemeal plans to extend road infrastructure on both sides of the border needed to be merged to create a comprehensive all-Ireland motorway and dual carriageway network.
Under the plan 85pc of the population would be within 10km of a motorway or dual carriage-way, easing access to trade, work and services, she said.
The plan includes development of major connecting roads on the west coast, connecting the so-called Atlantic cities, from Derry to Tralee and Cork.
The plan is also to add more north-south routes, and roads between second-tier urban centres, in addition to the current networks radiating out of Dublin and Belfast. A fully national network will be vital to any shift to more balanced regional development, Ibec said.
Immediate priorities include completing routes in development, such as the A5 and A6 connecting Derry and the north west to Dublin and Belfast; upgrades to the N20 from Cork to Limerick; enhancing capacity on the M50; the N15 linking Letterkenny to Sligo; and the A5 route extension to Letterkenny.
The country has not had a comprehensive all-island transport network since the high point of the railways in 1920. After partition, links to the north west in particular have not developed, she said.
Referring to partition, she said there was a danger of "repeating the mistakes of the past" if last month's Brexit vote is allowed to spell the end of joint action by Dublin and Belfast on work - including transport, energy and digital.
With the population set to increase, investment is needed to support exports, job creation and business development, the organisations said. Ibec and the CBI will lobby leaders on both sides of the border with a view to getting work to the planning stages next year. The estimated €12bn cost is based on a price of €5m per km of dual carriageway and €10m per km of motorway.
That level of investment was affordable, Ms Burke said, but might require public-private partnerships, and new and innovative forms of tolling - including time-based charges levied using GPS technology.
European rules mean financing by the State is likely to be done "off balance sheet". The push by tech and motor companies to develop smart cars and more eco-friendly vehicles demonstrate that road, rather than rail or air transport, is likely to remain dominant, she added.