MOTORISTS will be forced to pay tolls on all of our motorways under new plans given the green light by road chiefs.
Drivers will no longer be able to use any stretch of the M50 motorway around Dublin without being hit with a charge.
And those using six other major networks, including the Waterford motorway, will have to pay tolls.
That means thousands of additional drivers will be hit. The plan to net all drivers is being drawn up by consultants hired by the National Roads Authority (NRA).
In documents seen by the Irish Independent, the consultants are being asked to "assess and introduce new toll points/regimes and, if necessary, identify changes to existing toll arrangements to facilitate such new toll points and operations".
Almost all the State's major new road projects will be included in the new system.
These include the Dundalk bypass, the N20 at Croom in Co Limerick, the N20 at Mallow in Co Cork, the N18 Ennis bypass and the N17/18 Tuam bypass in Co Galway.
The new sweep comes as the Government attempts to make up for revenue lost as motorists pay less road tax by switching to greener cars.
Consumer watchdogs last night accused the Government of engaging in "a revenue raising exercise" in the absence of proper discussion on how to pay for maintenance of our damaged secondary roads network.
"This is just one more way of putting more money into already depleted coffers," Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI) chief executive Dermott Jewell told the Irish Independent.
"This will be another serious blow for motorists who are already contributing more than their fair share of taxes from the moment they buy their car, to the time they ensure and service it."
The NRA last night confirmed it is hiring consultants to help them advise on the new tolling arrangements.
"The authority requires the provision of assistance, advice and management services in connection with existing and future tolling businesses," NRA spokesman Sean O'Neill.
Under the plan, all drivers using the M50 -- regardless of how short the journey -- will have to pay a charge.
Drivers currently only pay a toll on the M50 if they travel across the former West Link bridge between the Lucan and Blanchardstown interchanges.
Thousands of others use the rest of the M50 for free every day.
However, under the new system, motorists using any of the other M50 stretches will also have to pay a toll.
It will now be divided into sections, and a charge applied to each portion used during a journey.
For example, one stretch between the Lucan and Red Cow interchanges could carry a charge of 50c. Similar charges would be imposed on other sections.
At the same time a driver who travels the full length of the motorway will pay a total of about €3 -- the current charge for the single toll under the plan.
A spokesperson for Transport Minister Leo Varadkar last night insisted a final decision had yet to be made on the new tolls.
However, sources last night said the Government is certain to approve the tolls to generate revenue.