Sunday 16 December 2018

Taxpayers facing €200m bill because toll road is underused

Entrance to the Limerick tunnel
Entrance to the Limerick tunnel

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent

Taxpayers may end up forking out as much as €200m to the private operator of the Limerick Tunnel toll road due to less than anticipated traffic on the route.

The sum was branded as "insane" by Labour TD Alan Kelly at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The PAC is examining public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the transport and education sectors.

The road was opened in 2010 and under the contract - which ends in 2041 - the State must make "traffic guarantee" payments to its operators.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland official Michael Kennedy told TDs up to 200m could be spent in traffic guarantee-related payments on the route.

He didn't agree with Mr Kelly that the sum is "insane", arguing that just because traffic guarantee payments are being made "doesn't mean it's a bad scheme".

Mr Kennedy said there were 24,500 vehicles using the tunnel every day - traffic that would otherwise end up in Limerick city. He said the cost-benefit result of a review of the scheme found it was "still viable", despite the traffic guarantee payments being made.

Earlier, PAC members expressed frustration that this and other post-project reviews had not yet been published for several PPP transport projects.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, confirmed it had yet to carry out post-project reviews of any of its school-building PPPs.

Its secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú said it was currently tendering for such work to be carried out.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane accused Department of Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt and Mr Ó Foghlú of having a "cavalier approach" in relation to the reviews.

Mr Watt rejected Mr Cullinane's remarks as unfair and said the reviews would be published "as quickly as we can".

He insisted the Government officials had been "upfront" during the PAC meeting.

PAC chairman Seán Fleming said: "The public have invested billions of taxpayers' money in PPPs. The public are entitled to know they're getting value for money."

Mr Watt agreed and reiterated the commitment to publish the post-project reviews.

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