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All roads must lead to joined-up thinking

PAYMENTS to the operators of the Limerick Tunnel between September and December last year amounted to €1.24m. Payments for the M3 Clonee-Kells motorway cost the National Roads Authority €547,000 between October and December. This works out at €111,000 a day.

Innocent road-users will doubtless wonder how it can be. Surely our spanking new toll roads are meant to make money for the State, not lose it? After all, operators of other motorways turn a handsome profit for themselves and a more modest profit for the State, to which they handed over €1.47m last year.

There is a simple answer. Revenue from tolls varies with the volume of traffic, and the inevitable fall in traffic in the recession has triggered the state guarantee to the operators.

But in reality the answer is not quite so clear cut. The construction of the Limerick Tunnel was accompanied by a traffic management plan, meant to take cars out of the city and on to the ring road. The plan and the tunnel traffic it would have generated have not materialised.

And one must question another part of the NRA explanation: describing these enterprises as "expensive and challenging" projects. We are not building roads through the Alps, or tunnels under the Amazon. There are no mountains in Meath, and hardly any bogs. The Limerick Tunnel is only 675 metres long. When the roads programme resumes, let us have joined-up transport, but let us especially have more joined-up thinking.