It seems that Wexford County Council has found itself in a quagmire when it comes to traffic management in the town. While changes made on a trial basis back in October remain in place, they have come in for heavy criticism with many motorists accusing the council of making things worse.
The combination of making the Bullring one way towards the quay and cutting off Lower Rowe Street during business hours has resulted in motorists bemoaning a lack of access to the quay from the other side of town and a major increase in traffic travelling along the narrow High Street, with residents in last week's newspaper saying they felt 'under siege' by traffic.
Also coming in for criticism was the decision to close off Monck Street, which has effectively made disabled parking bays on Charlotte Street inaccessible.
While people were invited to make submissions on the new traffic system being trialled, Director of Services Tony Larkin said that any permanent changes being made to the road traffic by-laws would have to go to public consultation again - meaning everyone who made a submission would have to do so yet again.
However, he did add: 'If the members are dead against any aspect of the changes, we can stop it here before it goes out for public consultation.'
The members were more or less unanimous in stating that they were not happy to put the proposed changes to the town's traffic management to the people in their current guise.
'As public representatives, we need to be happy with what we're putting out there for the public's approval,' Cllr John Hegarty said.
Despite the council members arguing otherwise, the District Engineer Sean Kavanagh stated that it was his belief that traffic build-ups in the town centre were being caused by people 'cruising for parking spaces that aren't there'. The members suggested that this wasn't the case and that people were merely seeking access to the quay.
Council officials seem firm in their belief that the only way to move forward is to have large, relatively cheap car parks at either end of the town and encourage people to walk to the town centre.
Cllr George Lawlor stated that traders and members of the public had contacted him with complaints and that the situation on High Street was coming in for a lot of criticism as well as reports of it taking 'half an hour to get from Maudlintown to Clonard'.
Cllr Hegarty and Cllr Leonard Kelly both had motions seeking a meeting with a delegation of retailers from the town centre as well as members of the public on the matter and Mr Larkin said he had no difficulty facilitating this.
Pointing out that 'tinkering' with the traffic system in town had brought further problems, Cllr Kelly brought a motion that called for a dedicated ring-fenced budget to instigate a fully costed and resourced Consultant Traffic Management Study for the whole town once and for all.
The Director of Services said that while this was doable, it would cost in the region of €100,000 and that the money would have to come from the roads budget. 'Are we saying we don't need this?' Cllr Kelly asked in disbelief, reading a lack of support in the room.
While his motion was seconded by Cllr Tom Forde, it failed to gain the required support from his council colleagues to pass.
Cllr Hegarty suggested that a lot of problems had arisen from the imposition of a one way system in the Bullring, however, it was set out in no uncertain terms that it would not be returning to the way it was. Cllr Lawlor and Cllr Kelly were of the belief that the Bullring works better as a one way system.
'Initially it was made one way while construction work was going on on the district offices,' Cllr Hegarty said. 'Then the bollards were put in and it was made permanent.'
Cllr Hegarty was informed that the Bullring 'can't possibly be two way'.
'The problem is that the footpaths installed on the corner by Shoe Style mean that the road isn't wide enough,' Mr Larkin said.
'I can see the argument for having the traffic flowing either way, but in our view the Bullring is better as it is at the minute.'
Cllr Lawlor then raised the possibility of changing the traffic flow to have the Bullring one way going up towards Cornmarket rather than down to the quay. Roads Engineer Sean Kavanagh said he would not be in favour of this change at all.
'That would have a major negative impact on traffic on the quay,' Mr Kavanagh said. 'The system that's in place currently helps alleviate delays on the quay.'
Cllr Tom Forde stated that there was a feeling out there from retailers and members of the general public that changes were being made to the town's traffic system without any consultation whatsoever.
Becoming frustrated, the Director, Mr Larkin, replied: 'The council has a job to do to manage traffic along with the gardaí. We can't give any user a veto on these things.'
'At a certain point we have to prioritise public safety and that may mean that we have to force people to go the way that we want them to go.'
'There will not be an all encompassing solution to suit everybody. We will need to inconvenience drivers in the town centre. Wexford is an old town with narrow streets. It can't take the large volumes of traffic.'
Cllr Kelly said that making changes here and there to the plan was not working and it was having an adverse impact in terms of people being late for work and school and particularly looking to the physical dangers of increased traffic on High Street.
With the conversation spiralling, Cllr Davy Hynes questioned whether the council had created a bigger problem than the one it was attempting to solve.
'I remember huge money was spent on the traffic plan 20 years ago when we went one way first,' he said. 'The town hasn't changed that much since then. Because we've tinkered with it, we've created more problems. Would we not have been better just to leave it as it was?'
Seeking a conclusion, the Director asked if the members were willing to sign off on the changes to the traffic by-laws as they are now to allow them go to public consultation and allow the public, once again, the opportunity to voice objections.
'No. We are the faces of this and we're the ones that will have to defend it to the public,' said Cllr Hegarty. 'I'd prefer to discuss this in full before it goes out to the public and go through the changes one by one.'
The Mayor then suggested that the traffic discussion be deferred until January and suggested the members have a separate meeting on the topic. 'I'd imagine this will take a couple of hours at least to thrash out,' Cllr Lawlor said.
When asked whether to retain the measures that had been put in place for the trial until the next meeting, the members agreed that this was probably for the best as changing them back at this time of year would create too much confusion.