Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 3 November 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Revised National Development Plan: Discussion
The purpose of the meeting this afternoon is to engage with representatives from Transportation Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and the National Transport Authority, NTA, to discuss the revised national development plan. On behalf of the committee, I would like to welcome Mr. Peter Walsh, chief executive of TII; Mr. Nigel O'Neill, director of capital programme of TII; Ms Anne Graham, chief executive officer of NTA; and Mr. Hugh Creegan, director of transport planning and investment and the deputy chief executive of NTA. Apologies for the slight delay in starting.
Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if a statement is potentially inflammatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, you will be directed to discontinue your remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction. There are some limitations to parliamentary privilege for witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus. They may not benefit from the same level of immunity to legal proceedings that a witness physically present does. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence that they give.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Those watching this meeting are most welcome. Oireachtas Members and witnesses now have the option of being physically present in the committee or joining the meeting remotely via Microsoft Teams. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the Leinster House complex in order to participate in public meetings. Reluctantly, I will not permit members to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I would ask any member partaking via Microsoft Teams, prior to making his or her contribution to the meeting, to confirm that he or she is on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.
If attending in the committee room, you are asked to exercise personal responsibility to protect yourself and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. I strongly advise the practice of good hand hygiene and to leave at least one vacant seat between you and others. One should also always maintain an appropriate level of social distancing during and after the meeting. Masks should be worn at all times during the meeting except when speaking.
I call Mr. Walsh to make his opening statement.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
Chairman and members of the committee, I thank you for the invitation to attend today. I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Nigel O’Neill, director of capital programme management. I understand that the committee wishes to discuss the revised National Development Plan 2021-2030, NDP, published on 4 October 2021. Before commenting on the NDP, I would like to briefly describe the duties assigned to TII through legislation.
The National Roads Authority, NRA, operating as TII since 2015, was established under the 1993 Roads Act. It is the general duty of the authority to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads, having regard to the needs of all users. TII is the approving authority for national road projects.
In 2015, the NRA was merged with the Rail Procurement Agency and the Roads Act 2015 added the function of securing the provision of, or providing, such light rail and metro railway infrastructure as may be determined by the NTA. The NTA is the approving authority for metro and light rail projects. In September 2021, TII became the approving authority for greenways. I make the distinction between the duty and function of TII in order to explain why, whereas I will provide information to the committee in relation to national roads projects, I will defer to the NTA as the approving authority for the MetroLink and Luas light rail projects.
I will speak on NDP priorities for national roads. The NDP is structured around the ten national strategic outcomes set out in the national planning framework and listed in an appendix to this statement. Priorities are set out in the NDP for national roads in six areas.
First is protection and renewal, supporting national strategic outcomes Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 10. Maintaining Ireland’s existing national road network to a robust and safe standard for users is identified as a key sectoral priority. The national road network is valued at approximately €31 billion. The first priority area for TII is managing the asset condition of the 5,300 km of the national road network, sustaining operations and maintenance, providing enhanced priority for public transport, enhancing safety, and providing managed motorway systems. The pavement asset management programme is the largest component of protection and renewal. The NDP gives explicit priority to providing climate resilience measures. The provision of minor safety improvement projects and safety schemes is also an important part of protection and renewal.
The second area comprises major projects under, and commencing, construction and supporting outcomes 1 and 2. Investment in these projects is committed to and identified in the NDP as contributing to enhanced regional accessibility and compact growth. Since 2018, five projects have been completed while five others are under construction. They are the M50 traffic control and management, N5 Westport to Turlough, N56 Dungloe to Glenties, N22 Ballyvourney to Macroom, and the M8 Dunkettle interchange upgrade. Three projects, the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge, N59 Moycullen bypass and the N69 Listowel bypass, will commence construction within a few months and be complete in 2024.
The third area comprises major projects in planning supporting outcome 2, enhanced regional accessibility. The N20 Cork to Limerick project is identified as a major investment in the NDP and in a list of selected investments for the southern region. The project is being brought through planning and, subject to approvals, delivery.
The fourth area is major projects in planning supporting outcome 6, high quality international connectivity. Explicit priority is given to progressing, through planning and delivery, national roads projects which strengthen access routes and improve connectivity to Ireland’s ports, specifically, the N21-N69 Limerick to Adare and Foynes, N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy, and N11-N25 Oilgate to Rosslare Harbour projects. The N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy project received confirmation of its planning consent and land acquisition orders in March. An Bord Pleanála has indicated that its decision in relation to planning and land acquisition consents for the N21-N69 Limerick to Adare and Foynes project will issue this month.
The fifth area is major projects in planning supporting outcome 1, compact growth. The NDP gives priority to the delivery of infrastructure which facilitates compact growth in towns and cities and national roads projects that provide bypasses for urban areas experiencing major congestion. One such project is the N6 Galway city ring road, which is in planning. An Bord Pleanála has indicated that its decision on planning and land acquisition consents for this project will issue this month. Other projects in this category are the N2 Slane bypass and N52 Ardee bypass.
Finally, there are other major projects in planning. Explicit priority is given to progressing another 24 named national roads projects listed on page 64 of the NDP. These projects are to be progressed through planning in the 2021-2030 period, subject to further approvals and available funding. A further, implicit, objective of the NDP is that national roads projects additional to those listed in the NDP can be considered for progression to planning in the 2021-2030 period subject to funding and further approvals.
On funding, five-year departmental capital allocations for the period 2021-2025 are set out in the NDP. The figure given for the Department of Transport is the gross voted capital allocation. The funding to be allocated to TII is not set out. The Department has indicated that the funding for new national roads for the ten years of the NDP will be €5.1 billion of Exchequer funding. However, current indications are that funding in the years 2021-2025 will be in the order of €1 billion and much of that will be required to complete the projects at construction with limited funding available for the progression of projects in the planning phase. Separate funding for protection and renewal is to be provided.
I thank members for their attention.
Ms Anne Graham:
I thank the Chairperson and the committee for the invitation to attend. I understand that the committee wishes to focus upon the recently published national development plan. To assist me in dealing with members' questions I am joined by Hugh Creegan, deputy CEO with the authority.
The remit of the NTA is primarily concerned with the planning, development and funding of sustainable transport modes, that is to say public transport, cycling and walking. The authority manages the capital investment programme for public transport, cycling and walking in the greater Dublin area and funds the transport operators and local authorities for approved projects. The authority manages a similar capital investment programme for the regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford on behalf of the Department of Transport and manages the national accessibility programme.
The current national development plan includes very significant developments such as the BusConnects programme, MetroLink and the DART+ programme, as well as other important public transport, walking and cycling projects which will assist in meeting the demand for sustainable transport and our obligations to reduce carbon emissions. These projects continue to be relevant to meeting the Government’s long-term overarching strategy to make Ireland a better country for all of us.
The authority has commenced a number of sustainable transport projects to be delivered as part of the current NDP across the five cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford to provide additional sustainable travel options to complement increased capacity and faster, higher quality public transport in the cities. These will include traffic management, bus priority and other smarter travel projects along with new urban cycling and walking routes to allow transport infrastructure to function more effectively and relieve congestion.
I will outline the key projects set out in the NDP, beginning with BusConnects. BusConnects will overhaul the current bus system in all five cities by implementing a network of next generation bus corridors, including segregated cycling facilities on the busiest routes, to make journeys faster, predictable and reliable. Over the lifetime of this NDP, there will be significant progress made on delivering BusConnects with the construction of core bus corridors expected to be substantially complete in all five cities by 2030.
BusConnects will enhance the capacity and potential of the public transport system by increasing and replacing the bus fleets with low emission vehicles and introducing a new system known as next generation ticketing and cashless payments. Investment in the regional and commuter bus fleet will continue with the purchase of up to 400 new vehicles. These new vehicles are low emission Euro VI vehicles and comprise low-floor, single-deck coaches and low-floor, double-deck coaches. Under the NDP, by 2025 it is expected that over 50% of the urban public service obligation, PSO, bus fleet will be converted from diesel to low and zero emission vehicles, with 30% of the bus fleet being zero emission. Investment in bus stops including upgraded poles, live timetable information and provision of wheelchair accessible bus stops, including on interurban routes, will continue to improve the accessibility of the bus network for all users, especially persons with disabilities or reduced mobility and older people.
In terms of rail and DART, the Cork commuter rail programme, running from Mallow to Midleton and Cobh, targets a ten-minute, all-day frequency on electrified rail services in the Cork metropolitan area. In the regional cities, funding provided over the next ten years will support the further development of commuter rail in Galway and Limerick, with significant track and station works proposed for Oranmore and Athenry, as well as the development of a Limerick commuter rail network.
Over the lifetime of this NDP, upgrade works will take place at three of the four major regional rail termini, namely Ceannt Station in Galway, Colbert Station in Limerick and, in Waterford, a new train station and transport hub, which will be built as part of the North Quays redevelopment project and will replace Plunkett Station. These projects will be funded through the NDP and the urban regeneration and development fund.
Public consultation has already taken place in relation to DART+ West and DART+ South West, while the procurement process has been completed in respect of the DART+ fleet and a preferred bidder identified. Government approval of the preliminary business case for the programme will allow DART+ West move into the statutory planning process known as a railway order application and allow for finalisation of the fleet contract.
A review of the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area is under way, and allocations provided under the NDP will allow for the commencement of planning and design of further projects that will emerge from the review. In rail, funding is being provided to conduct an all-island strategic rail review that will specifically consider the potential for enhanced interurban and inter-regional rail connectivity over the period to 2040, including the opportunities for higher speeds on the network. In the interim, funding will be provided to support a range of interventions across the network to improve journey times and service reliability, as well as maintaining the optimal levels of maintenance and renewal of the existing network.
In terms of Luas and light rail, Luas Finglas is the most advanced of the additional light rail lines planned for Dublin. The NDP will permit the project to continue to progress in the coming years, with work already under way in respect of developing its preliminary business case. Appraisal and planning will continue for Luas Lucan and Luas Poolbeg.
In Cork, the metropolitan area transport strategy proposes a new east-west transport corridor to be served by light rail. The NDP will fund the continued development and design of that proposal. The feasibility of light rail in Galway will also be considered.
A preliminary business case for MetroLink has been submitted to the Department of Transport for review and will be submitted shortly to Government for its approval, as required under the public spending code. Since 2018, the project has undergone two extensive non-statutory public consultation processes, during which thousands of submissions were received and considered. Development of the preferred route is now being readied for submission next year to An Bord Pleanála for statutory planning approval.
Connecting Ireland is the NTA's programme to improve mobility in rural areas by providing better connections between villages and towns and by linking these areas with an enhanced regional network connecting cities and regional centres nationwide. The delivery of Connecting Ireland will require additional current PSO funding to cover the operating costs of the new and enhanced services. Separately, the NDP will fund the capital expenditure requirements associated with the delivery of additional bus stops and vehicles to support the roll-out of the overall plan.
The investment proposed in the NDP for the major urban centres over the next five years will target more than 700 km of improved walking and cycling infrastructure delivered across the five cities. To support delivery of this improved infrastructure, additional staff will be funded in the metropolitan area local authorities to increase their capacity to roll out these infrastructure projects.
The NDP investment will help support the delivery of significant levels of new and improved walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025 outside the metropolitan areas, as well as additional investment in greenways. It will also fund the deployment of almost 250 additional staff resources in local authorities and national roads offices around the country to increase the capacity of these organisations to roll-out the active travel infrastructure projects.
That concludes my introductory statement. I trust that I can answer any queries that arise.
I thank Mr. Walsh and his colleagues in TII for coming before the committee, and also Ms Graham and her colleagues from the NTA for being with us.
I have had a lot of well-documented involvement with the national development plan process in recent weeks, as I have had some concerns in that regard. First and foremost, I wish to raise the N73 road in north Cork. It is a very significant economic artery into the north Cork region. It connects the towns of Mallow and Mitchelstown. Due to the current state of the road infrastructure, it has been prone to a number of very serious and unfortunate accidents in recent times. In the 2021 annual budget for Cork county, Mr. Walsh allocated €85.7 million for road improvement works. Is that correct? It is what I read verbatim from the allocations to TII, so it must be correct. Was the annual funding allocated in full to Cork county?
On page 16 of the document, under national secondary road investment, €1.5 million was allocated at the beginning of this year to commence a €7 million upgrade on the road project. From my conversations with Cork County Council, what happened subsequently, around August-September, is that funding issues arose. What I want to establish is why the €1.5 million is no longer available to proceed with the project. The reason I raise the matter at this forum is because Mr. Walsh referred in his correspondence with me to the national development plan and gave the reason as funding uncertainty. Why was the €1.5 million that was budgeted not available from the €85.7 million that was allocated at the start of the year for that crucial project for north Cork? I ask Mr. Walsh to respond to those questions.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
The allocation for the year of €1.5 million was to advance the project towards construction. The request that came from Cork County Council was to seek approval to go out to tender. The tender would be far in excess of the €1.5 million because, as Deputy O'Connor correctly stated, it is a €7 million project. The uncertainty around what we can support is one that has existed until very recently, with confirmation on what the allocations will be next year. We now have that confirmation, and it must go through a process of approval by the board in terms of the distribution of the allocations across all of the projects under our aegis. We are now in a position where we have more certainty on funding. That difficulty is one that we have got over, but what we could not do, and we have said it to several local authorities-----
Does that mean this project will advance? Does Mr. Walsh now have the requirement that he needs to spend the €1.5 million that has been allocated and subsequently draw down an additional allocation in the new financial year starting on 1 January 2022?
What perplexes me is that TII has a budget, it has identified the projects and the people of north Cork thought they were getting €1.5 million spent on upgrades to the N73, which seems to them to have been paused. Everything looked to be on track. Cork County Council had done all the required work that had been requested through TII in terms of preparing the project to go to tender. What I want to establish is if TII now has the certainty it needs in order to commence the works around Waterdyke and Clogher Cross to upgrade the road?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
We have the certainty that we need to plan for the delivery of this, among other projects. I do not mean to be evasive, but I cannot answer specifically about one project because I would be pre-empting the process when there are hundreds of projects in the allocation book that will receive confirmation in December of what will or will not receive an allocation next year.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
I accept that. We said it to several local authorities at the time. The reason we said we needed to have certainty is that our primary relationship in terms of the delivery of projects is with the local authorities and we cannot have a situation where we encourage them to enter into a contract or to even start a tender process that we subsequently cannot fund. Apart from causing a lot of difficulties for the local authorities, that would destroy the relationship. That is our primary concern. In terms of the NDP and certainty around the funding envelopes at least for next year, I appreciate that the numbers may change over the years, but at least for next year we have that certainty, so we will be able to give that certainty in December. I appreciate Deputy O'Connor’s appeal for that project.
There is a lot of sensitivity concerning the next question I am going to ask Mr. Walsh, but I must ask it. Has Mr. Walsh been contacted by the Department of Transport on the items I raised in the meetings I had with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Transport? Following what happened after my intervention on the national development plan, were they subsequently in contact with Mr. Walsh? I understand that the funding allocations for next year will be decided later in the year, but has there been contact with him following on from that meeting?
I thank the witnesses. It is excellent to have an opportunity to discuss the national development plan, NDP. I want to start with MetroLink. The preliminary business case has been submitted to the Department of Transport for review. Will Ms Graham explain what a business case looks like for a State body such as the NTA when it goes into the Department? Does it have costings and recommendations? Anyone who is familiar with a business case, such as someone setting up a business or an investor who wants a bank to give them money, would understand this. Does the same principle apply to a business case for MetroLink?
Ms Anne Graham:
The costings are set out in the preliminary business case. It has to meet the criteria of meeting the benefit to cost ratio that would be appropriate for infrastructure of this size. It has to make sense economically and financially, as well as in terms of being a piece of infrastructure.
That is encouraging. The preliminary business case has been presented to the Department of Transport and will go to Government. From the point of view of the NTA, the costings make sense and, hopefully, that will follow through. Timelines have suffered, obviously, and we have had some negative press in regard to MetroLink in the build-up to the NDP. From what I am hearing in this meeting and what we heard in the meeting we had with the Minister a couple of weeks ago, it is to be hoped that things are getting back on track in regard to MetroLink.
I will move on to another issue as my time short. With regard to meeting with many of the transport providers, the work they are doing in terms of carbon reduction is very positive and, in fact, it can be quite exciting given some of the technologies they are looking at. In terms of accessibility for people with disabilities, wheelchair access is referenced in the NTA’s statement. Having wheelchair accessible bus stops and platforms is very positive but it is when people with wheelchairs are getting onto a bus that they are having problems. A young activist in Swords, Conor Dillon, is doing great work with Dublin Bus in highlighting this. As technology improves with most things, it usually makes them smaller, but wheelchairs are not getting any smaller. When people in wheelchairs are getting onto buses, it is not an easy thing to manoeuvre them once they are on the bus. Even with a big wheelchair, they can get on the bus but if there are other passengers or buggies and so on in the way, it can be very difficult. Beyond that, if a second wheelchair user gets on, there are big problems, and this includes the most advanced buses with the largest capacity.
This is something that needs flagging. The whole country is getting behind and is supportive of active travel, making pathways more accessible and making bus stops more accessible. Hopefully, we will be able to encourage more wheelchair users to use public transport and to be able to rely on it, but there is that capacity and manoeuvrability issue on our buses in particular, which is a point that needs to be made. I would be interested to hear the witnesses’ thoughts on that. I know many contracts for buses are made years in advance so we know what is coming down the tracks in terms of their capacity. However, the capacity is limited for people with wheelchairs, even if the accessibility measures are in place for people to get on the bus.
On cycling routes, it has been great to see so many cycle lanes pop up in the city of Dublin and around the country in the past year and a half, and there is no doubt we have seen them. I travel from Fingal to Dublin city and back again every day. In terms of linking up cycle lanes, particularly where local authorities are side by side, what work is being done to ensure that cycle routes are matching up? What is being done to ensure the construction standards are the same, particularly on our radial routes on the main arteries in order that we have long, segregated cycle routes for people to get in from the outskirts of the city? This is not just for Dublin but for all our cities and large towns. What plans are in place to roll out those kinds of cycle lanes?
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
In terms of accessibility on buses and coaches, we have been doing a lot of work in that area in the last couple of years. On most of our urban buses, and in all of our urban buses for the last couple of years, we have a buggy space as well as a wheelchair space. We have been making the wheelchair space longer, where we been able to do that, and we have also done other things. For example, in our most recent purchase of buses, we put a second manual wheelchair ramp in the centre of those because the motorised ramp at the front door sometimes fails and that bus is then inoperative. We have had engagement with the Irish Wheelchair Association, showing them the most recent vehicles that we are purchasing and getting them to trial a number of different wheelchairs on those vehicles. That is happening.
Coaches are a bit different in that most of our coaches are high-floor and, in the past, they always had to have this complicated lift that came out from the side of the vehicle and lifted people up. For the last two or three years, we have pushed the envelope of what is available and we have purchased low-floor coaches, which we are now deploying on various routes. That allows roll-on access for people, which is much more convenient. Those are the things we are doing.
It is very hard to accommodate a second wheelchair space, which is what the Deputy is alluding to, in that we lose more seats. As we move to electric vehicles, the number of seats on our buses is going to decrease because of the space needed for batteries, and the challenge becomes even more pronounced. In general, although it is not true everywhere, buses operate with a single wheelchair space for that reason and we have to sacrifice more and more seats if we want to add additional wheelchair spaces.
On cycle tracks, in the Dublin area and across regional cities, we have a full network plan of cycle routes across the counties and the delivery of the various projects that councils are doing are aligned with those plans. We are co-ordinated across boundaries. We will never have a case where a cycle route ends up in a dead-end somewhere - that will not occur. In terms of standards and co-ordination in that space, we have a national cycle manual, which we are currently updating, and everything is designed to those standards. We reviewed the designs as part of the funding operation and we will cover it that way.
Thank you. I understand the point in regard to space on buses for wheelchair users. Notwithstanding the issue of space for a second wheelchair, even given the larger size of wheelchairs, people have difficulty manoeuvring on buses. There is finite space but it is an issue. We want to see people with disabilities being able to live their lives in the exact same spaces that we are living ours, and public transport is going to be key to that. There is a lot of work being done and the engagement from public transport providers is very good on this, which must be put on record.
I will move straight into questions. On a question to the NTA, can I get an update on the Navan rail project? We were expecting a review to be completed and published in July and it is now November. Where is the review and when will we see it? When will we see the greater Dublin area, GDA, transport strategy consultation?
Ms Anne Graham:
The Navan rail line is included in the GDA transport strategy for consideration. I think we can only comment on it when it is published to see whether it is still considered a viable project as part of the delivery of public transport for the Navan area. That will be clear next Tuesday.
I thank Ms Graham.
Connecting Ireland is extremely ambitious, which is welcome. There is consultation at the moment but it is planned to expand services between 2022 and 2025. What will that expansion look like year on year? Will we see a lot in 2022? How much funding has been provided?
Ms Anne Graham:
Approximately 10% of what is in the Connecting Ireland programme. We will get started next year. What we will provide next year, following consultation and the publication of a final network of services, will be those services that have already been planned. We will try to get those delivered as quickly as possible.
Ms Anne Graham:
We normally prioritise on the basis of need. That is generally what we would do. In this case, we have worked with the Local Link offices on a number of services that it has brought forward that meet our objectives in Connecting Ireland. We expect to see them generally distributed right across the country next year.
I am sure Ms Graham is aware, because many people in the Meath area have raised it, of the 109A service to Dublin City University, DCU. The case made by the NTA to curtail the service following a review in January was that congestion on the leg between Dublin Airport and DCU and on the way back impacted on punctuality. The curtailment is extremely frustrating. I get the 103A bus and it encounters congestion at Glasnevin Cemetery every morning. However, I do not think there is any suggestion that we would ask passengers to get off at Glasnevin Cemetery and walk the rest of the way. Does Ms Graham acknowledge that the proposed less direct and more expensive route would impose additional inconveniences on students? I mean students would have to get off the 109A and board a Dublin Bus service or some other connecting service. Will the NTA reconsider its decision to curtail the service?
Ms Anne Graham:
As the Deputy will know, there are direct services available in the morning and evening so it is only the services during the day that have been curtailed. We must consider how to use the bus resources that are available to us. If we find that there has been significant congestion then it means that a resource is tied up where it could be assigned in other locations.
Ms Anne Graham:
With all due respect Deputy, DCU is well served by a significant number of Dublin Bus services that interchange both at the airport and in Phibsborough to other very regular services that serve the county of Meath. We also have direct services that deliver students before 9 a.m. and picks them up around 5 p.m. We believe that is the most appropriate service level currently. Also, the Government has announced that student fares will be reduced.
I thank Ms Graham for her response. My next questions are for Mr. Walsh. It has been mentioned that the Slane bypass meets the criteria. There are important projects in my area such as at Kilmoon Cross and along the N3 and the M50. There is a long list of additional projects and it has been said that €1 billion will be spent between now and 2025 and €5.1 billion to 2030. Realistically, based on that equation, very many of the projects on the long list will not be delivered. Is it the case that the funding is not there? How will the projects be progressed? What is the point? There was talk about the relationship with the Cork County Council. What about the relationship with the Meath County Council? The officials there are diligent in their work. However, some of the projects, based on the figures provided, will waste people's time for a number of years yet people must sit in traffic on a daily basis. How will that situation be squared? Am I correct that there is not enough funding to deliver the projects? If so, what are the solutions to the daily congestion at Kilmoon Cross that people experience and the safety issue in Slane?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
The Deputy's assessment is correct. There are insufficient funds for the period 2021 to 2025 to progress a significant number of the projects that are listed. There will be sufficient funds to progress, with the €4 billion, in the period beyond 2026. I do not want to create false expectations around that. We will progress whatever projects we can in accordance with the priorities as set out in the NDP during that period.
I am glad that Slane is going to be bypassed. The local authority made a good case for that. Kilmoon Cross is a good case in point. The project is at an early stage of development. People will know about Kilmoon Cross as it is mentioned every morning and evening in the AA Roadwatch bulletin. The proposal does not sound like it will include a motorway bypass link. What solution will TII and the Department provide?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
It is difficult to be definitive about what can be done within the available funding. All I can say is that the project is identified in several policy documents as a section of the network that warrants intervention. We will do everything that we can, within the available funds, to make an appropriate intervention. Up to this year, the project, as developed, was one that we were confident could continue at the pace that it was going and it was one with which Meath County Council had made very good progress. I do not want to give the committee the impression that we are going to progress as fast as Meath County Council is capable of doing. That just is not possible.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
We are keen to utilise the funding in the best possible way. To that extent, it may well be that some projects may be suspended for a number of years. We are not going to encourage local authorities to enter into something that we cannot fund. When one gets to the stage of development of a project where one needs to do ground investigations, topographical surveys and environmental surveys then they are expensive. The funding available will be utilised first on the projects and according to the priorities that I gave in my opening statement. I cannot say more than that.
I wish to ask two technical questions that arise on foot of the first question asked by Deputy O'Connor. It has been stated that there was a need to await the outcome of the review of the NDP before the go-ahead was given local authorities to proceed. Did the updating of the NDP slow down projects? If so, by how long?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
One could characterise it as being a couple of months where there was a degree of uncertainty and progressing with contracts that would run into 2022 was something about which we had to be careful.
It is the first time in five or six years that we have been in that situation. The Building on Recovery in 2015 gave us pretty clear certainty around multiannual funding. This has been in place ever since. In fairness to the Government and the Department we have had a very-----
Mr. Peter Walsh:
We were aware that with the climate action plan and with the commitments required around myriad aspects, the NDP was going to be a very thorough re-examination of all financial commitments. As such, we needed to be cautious. It was our call. Nobody from the Department said "Hold off" or anything like that.
I thank the witnesses. I read the opening statements as they came into us and I listened to the meeting earlier from my room. Deputy Smith referred to MetroLink and metro generally and there seems to be a little bit of confusion, certainly to my mind, as to what is now the definition of metro. Could I get a definition from the witnesses? Where is the metro project? Initially the upgrade of the Luas green line was going to go as far as Sandyford. Then there was talk about how it could not possibly be upgraded to Ranelagh, and that it would have to stop and start and all the rest of it. It seemed that on the north side it was progressing albeit slowly. Where are we now with the upgrade of the Luas green line? Pre-pandemic, the green line was full pretty much all day. Certainly at peak times people were getting on at Dundrum and going up to Kilmacud and Sandyford to cross the line to come back in. Where are we with the upgrade of the Luas green line? Is the metro still part of that? This question is probably for the National Transport Authority rather than for TII, based on Mr. Walsh's opening statement.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
The definition of MetroLink is that it runs from north of Swords to the Charlemont station or stop, just on the south side of the city. it does not include the Green line upgrade. We did put that out as an initial proposal. In the long term, we believed that an upgrade of that line was needed but when we did further assessment it became clear that we can increase the capacity of the Luas green line that will carry us through the next decade or two decades. It is at that stage it would need to be looked at. Over the last year so, all of the trams on the green line have been lengthened. Previously they had been running at 40 m and now they are running at 45 m. There is scope to add additional trams in the future. They may not be able to run all the way through the city centre but they would be able to run as far as St. Stephen's Green, which is a large destination point. There is a plan there to increase incrementally the capacity on the green line as required over the coming two decades. At that point in time there will be other plans needed for the green line. MetroLink runs from north of Swords to interchange with the green line at Charlemont.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
I would not describe it as less ambitious. That came from us believing at the time that we needed to plan for that metro upgrade as part of the big project then. As I said, as we did further work we then saw a different way of doing it. One ends up in broadly the same place in that we have enough capacity on the green line to cater for the passengers that are using it, and we will have the MetroLink that connects with it at Charlemont.
Where are the metrics? If there was a plan in 2016, 2017 or whenever the previous NDP was, to say that we needed to upgrade metro to at least as far as Sandyford, based on the growth projections for Cherrywood - which are very much in their infancy but at the same time they are absolutely out there - I would argue that the metrics need to look at the thousands of units being added in Cherrywood and the big increases in housing capacity right along the line. All along Goatstown, Dundrum and Kilmacud houses are being turned into 130 apartments; the mental hospital will have 1,200 or 1,500 units; there will be 700 units in Our Lady's Grove; and potentially 300 units at the Goat pub site, albeit that has been knocked back for the moment. There is a huge increase in demand on what was a creaking service and certainly at pre-pandemic peak times. I accept that some people can work from home, and it is great if they are able to do that and want to do that, but how much is the capacity being increased? When will the NTA look at a proper upgrade? I do not mean this in a derogatory way. When a substantial upgrade was being proposed four or five years ago there were a lot of suggestions, particularly in Ranelagh about how it would affect the people living there. I have sympathy for anyone affected by any upgrade, but one cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs. I am worried that not too far from now we are going to be back with a green line that is just not capable of dealing with what is there.
Ms Anne Graham:
On the capacity upgrade, it is not just about the lengthening of the trams. Mr. Creegan mentioned 45 m but they can be up to 55 m, which is a significant increase in the length of every tram, as well as eight additional trams built into the green line. In the Estimates that were done in the lead up to bringing forward MetroLink as currently proposed, we would have known of the developments that were planned. We believe that the green line is capable of delivering the service for those new developments. We do have to reassess, as part of the greater Dublin area transport strategy, which will now be published next week. The Senator might wait and see what is in the strategy associated with the future next 20 years in terms of growth of the greater Dublin area and how we want to address that from a public transport point of view.
Ms Anne Graham:
Part of the greater Dublin area strategy at the time was that we would have a metro-level of service from Swords to Sandyford. We are publishing a new greater Dublin area transport strategy for public consultation. We cannot comment on what our views are about what should be done until we can make that public next week.
Perhaps we should have had this meeting next Wednesday rather than this Wednesday but anyway, I do not believe that any of us knew until today that the strategy was going to be published next Tuesday. I was talking to another Deputy about this only yesterday, and he heard a rumour that it was to be published tomorrow.
I have gone far as I can go on that one. On cycling, I am a big cyclist. I cycle in here more often than I drive but I also drive. I want to make the point that the concrete strips are a disaster. I have heard that so many people trip over them, slip over them, crash into them, including pedestrians and cyclists. There are probably too many of the concrete strips broken into single strips, particularly when they are narrow such as on the Goatstown Road. The cyclist is very much chicaned inside. If a cyclist in front is slower, people are trying to pass them out by trying to get out and trying to get back in. Cycling is fantastic and we have to get the modal shift to encourage people. I was the Dún Laoghaire town cycle champion. This did not mean I was any good, it just meant that I was to promote it.
The point is that I had not cycled for 20 years. Some ten years ago I got back on a bike and I cycle here more often than I do not. There are, however, a lot of people who will not get on a bike. People have said it at this committee.
They are terrified of getting on a bike, particularly in Dublin. I have to cross Leeson Street and then St. Stephen's Green. It is complex; it is not for the faint-hearted. We need modal shift. We need more and more people to cycle. Almost every bike in use results in a car being taken off the road. It is not necessarily taking a passenger out of a bus; it is taking a car off the road. However, we have to make the cycle lanes wide enough and safe enough. Cycle parking is important. Security of parking is one of the biggest challenges I face. Leinster House is very good but if you want to cycle into town, you have to be able to know that your bike will still be there when you come back to it. That is not always the case. We need an enormous increase in secure cycle parking in order to facilitate modal shift.
I have only one question. I am conscious of the time. I might come back in the second round. In terms of the proposal, the road reservation for the eastern bypass goes through a significant chunk of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, from Sandyford, through Goatstown, down along past UCD, across to St. Helen's and out towards Booterstown. I am not necessarily advocating that the eastern bypass be built as such but the road reservation has to be kept, perhaps for a Luas line, a quality bus corridor or a cycle lane. The route is a bit hilly in parts. It is important that the road reservation is kept. What is the status of the eastern bypass? In 2003, when I first became a councillor, it was stated it would not be advanced before 2035. I do not know if that has changed or what the position is. If the reservation goes, it will be built on and we will lose the option of a rail corridor, a cycle corridor or any kind of use of that route. The reservation needs to be kept. It involves trip generators in places such as UCD and Sandyford, and connections to the Luas and DART, and RTÉ and St. Vincent's Hospital. It has so much potential, even as a bus corridor or something like that. Where are we with the eastern bypass?
I am not officially advocating that. As a member of the local authority, however, I had fought to make sure that the reservation was retained because we may need it in 50 years' time. It could be for a rail line, a cycle path or a linear park involving walking and cycling. The land in that part of the world is quite scarce. The minute the reservation is gone, it will be built on and we will lose the opportunity.
I welcome the witnesses and thank them for being here. This is our third engagement this week with the NTA, which is most welcome. It is refreshing that we are being engaged with even if the orders are a bit reversed for Senator Horkan. Nonetheless, I welcome the engagement. The important point is that there is ambition on the part of TII, the NTA, ourselves and local authorities regarding the €200 million BusConnects plan for Cork, which we all welcome.
I am not trying to be in any way discordant, but Deputy O'Connor made reference to Cork County Council. I draw the witnesses attention to the work done by the all-island research observatory in Maynooth which revealed that Cork County Council in particular is not in receipt of its fair share of Government funding from various Departments. I want to stress that Cork County Council is responsible for the biggest part of the national road network. I ask that the officials would review, with the Department and Cork County Council, the funding mechanism in this regard. It is not because I am from Cork that I am saying this; it is because Cork is the biggest county and it has within it the largest part of the road network. If you take the west Cork municipal area alone, it is home to the fifth largest network of roads in the country. Cork County Council therefore requires a significant level of funding. I thank our guests for listening to me on that. I hope they can come back to me with a response.
In the context of Mr. Walsh's statement, I ask for an update on the M28 Cork to Ringaskiddy road project. I understand the difficulties that were there. I was partnered with the residents in that. I would say that if there was proper engagement from the beginning, we would never have been where we ended up. However, the horse and the car have gone from that bridge now and, as the cliché goes, we are where we are. I ask them for an update on the M28.
Could the witnesses give us an update on the M28, if possible? If not, they might come back to me on it.
As Ms Graham and Mr. Creegan will be aware, I am of the view that people want project visualisation. They want projects started. They want to see projects finished. Whether it is roads, light rail or buses, they want to see it done. At the risk of sounding contentious, many people see a report or a plan being published and launched, they recognise the ambition behind it, and then they say that they will never see that. I hope we can overcome that concern amongst people that has been expressed to me following yesterday's launch in Cork-----
-----the M28, and the timeline on that. That is my question to Mr. Walsh.
To Ms Graham, in terms of BusConnects in Cork, I meant to ask at our meeting with her whether the livery would be still red and white. It is a parochial matter but it is distinctive in the context of Cork. The video the NTA had as part of its promotional piece had a red-and-white bus. I accept the NTA is buying them in bulk. I still would hope that, as part of BusConnects, we would keep the red and white in Cork.
On BusConnects, my only concern, as I stated at the meeting with the NTA, is the timeline for the public consultation. My only comment is that people want to see timelines. Senator Horkan spoke about modal shift. We saw recently in Cork where there was a proposal regarding a bus lane. It was rejected by the local authority. We speak about widening the road space for buses and public transport. How does one achieve that in the context of the local authority not voting to proceed with bus lanes?
I thank them for today. I thank them for the engagement on Monday and Tuesday this week. I wish them well. I hope that we will have ongoing engagement with TII and the NTA.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
In terms of the M28, as the Senator will be aware, we got approval of planning in March of this year. Cork County Council has issued notice to treat and it is proceeding with the land acquisition. There is a significant amount of advance contracts required for that project, not least archeology. It is quite an archeologically rich part of the country. We had always anticipated that there would be a significant number of advance contracts required between services, ground investigations and archaeology. That will continue to proceed over the next few years. It will take a number of years to get through those.
In terms of the next gateway for the public spending progression of the project, we anticipate that Cork County Council will have the documentation ready for submission at quarter 4 of next year. Approval to go to tender will be sought. The award of tender will be governed by available funding. That is the current situation, but the project is proceeding as quickly as it can.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
The construction element of it will be in the order of three to four years. When we get to construction is the one variable at present. All the advance contracts are going ahead. The documentation will be made ready. Cork County Council will seek the approval to proceed to tender at the end of next year and we will know better than where things are.
Ms Anne Graham:
Regarding BusConnects Cork, we launched the new network project yesterday. As the Senator knows, we need to move forward, not just on the network, but on bus priority corridors in Cork and the other regional cities. That will be a much more challenging project. Those designs are under way and will take into account the final bus network that we agree following the public consultation. We will commence public consultation on those plans towards the middle of next year. It will be quarter 2 or 3.
Regarding the livery, it was our ambition to provide a standardised livery on a national basis to make it clear what the Government was investing in with regard to public transport. There would be one livery across all public transport. It is not just the cities where we are looking to standardise liveries, but across all services. This is meant to provide an identity of our national public transport that is funded by the State. We felt that it was appropriate to put in place green as a national colour and then yellow, which helps with accessibility at the front, in that it makes buses more visible to those with a visual impairment. That is where the livery came from.
Regarding timelines, we will be consulting on bus lanes. Alongside cycling facilities, they are a crucial part of the BusConnects programme. We will need to consider the issue of delivery with local authorities. The NTA is making the planning application for BusConnects Dublin's infrastructure, but no decisions have been made yet as to who will apply for planning permission for the regional cities' BusConnects bus corridors.
I welcome the fact that the buses are green. I thought the NTA was doing that to promote Limerick, but it is an added benefit for us anyway.
I will ask a couple of questions of Ms Graham and Mr. Creegan first before moving on to Mr. Walsh and Mr. O'Neill. On a general note, it is great that we are promoting buses, but has a national policy on providing bus shelters at every significant bus stop been considered? Many rural villages do not have bus shelters. In Limerick, people approach us looking for bus shelters. We then get on to the NTA, which works with the local authority on agreeing bus shelters. A national policy would send out a strong signal that people using bus services would have shelters, meaning they would not get wet and they would be safe and secure there.
Great. My next question is on a matter in respect of which we have been receiving correspondence, that being, using electronic payment for public transport. We go into restaurants and other places where they will only accept electronic payment now because Covid has advanced its introduction. Last night, I took a taxi from Heuston Station to here. The taxi driver would not accept electronic payment, so I had to stop along the way at an ATM to take out money. Has the NTA considered this matter? What is the legal process for instituting electronic payment across public transport, be it on buses or trains or in taxis? In ways, it would be a much safer model in terms of money and Covid. Is this matter being considered? What would the structure be and how would it be done?
Ms Anne Graham:
Yes. We can set that as a regulation. We were about to impose it just before Covid hit, alongside a fare increase that would have offset some of the costs associated with delivering it. Covid paused that work. We are now looking at the matter again, including the fare structure. That has been the delay.
I am asking whether I can just produce my card if I get on a bus, be it Dublin Bus or a service anywhere else. If I pass through a motorway toll, I can pull out my card, which will be scanned for payment. Can that option be considered for public buses? I could get on my bus and, instead of annoying the driver with money, I could just pay. Has that been considered?
Ms Anne Graham:
It is the next generation of Leap card. As part of our BusConnects programme, we will introduce the next generation of Leap card, which will be an account-based system. While continuing to allow Leap cards, it will allow the use of bank cards, mobile phones and other forms of ID to register one's journey. In the meantime, we are also considering whether we can deliver a virtual Leap card that can be stored in a phone's wallet app, thereby allowing people to use their phones. We have a mobile app, which is available for bus services in Limerick.
I will move on to a local matter, the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy, LSMATS. We had a public consultation. We can take it from Ms Graham's presentation that commuter rail will be included. It is also included in the NDP. I have three questions. When will the NTA run further public consultation? Will the NTA confirm that commuter rail is included? The draft LSMATS that was put out to public consultation last year listed the northern distributor road, with public transport on it, as a key objective. Where does the northern distributor road stand in the plan at this moment?
I just wanted to be certain. I thank Mr. Creegan for that. I look forward to that when it comes to public consultation. He will appreciate the northern distributor road is a key piece of infrastructure for Limerick. I welcome the fact it will be in the revised NDP. Obviously, on the overall observations and the revised plan, I am big into public engagement and I welcome that.
I want to raise two projects with Mr. Walsh. The first is the Adare bypass. I note the An Bord Pleanála decision has been put back to November whereas it was to be 4 October. Where does it stand and what is Mr. Walsh's understanding of this? If it gets the go-ahead from An Bord Pleanála, what is the timeframe to proceed to build the project?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
It does. Limerick city and county councils have been progressing that project ahead of having planning approval because of the nature of it. If the approval for land acquisition and the planning approval for the project comes through this month, we would hope to be in a position in quarter four of next year for the next gateway in the development of the project, which would be to seek approval to go to tender.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
The projects that are approved and at construction will take about €800 million of that €1 billion in the years from now to 2025. The remaining €200 million or €300 million is going to be required to progress projects and meet commitments resultant from getting planning approval. It will depend on what is available and what we can progress at the time of having the approval, and being in a position to go to the next gateway.
Outside of the funding, quarter four of 2022 is when it is likely to go to tender. Mr. Walsh expects that, within the year 2023, the contractor will be in place. If funding is then available, how long will it take to build the route?
I would like to come back to the cost of the projects. I will then move to the question of the M20, on which my views are well known. It is a project that is very important, along with the Foynes route. Where does that process stand at the moment? Mr. Walsh might answer that first.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
Limerick city and county are the authorities bringing this forward. They have been doing so very diligently and they have been taking into account what they are anticipating in terms of requirements that will arise from climate testing, carbon measurement and so on. By comparison with the last time I was in with the committee, it has extended a bit further but it is now expected that we will have a preferred transport solution for the project by the end of the year. That will then go out to public consultation.
I do not need to be careful. I am going to spell it out. I believe there should be a motorway. I believe there needs to be an upgrade of the existing rail line between Limerick Junction and Limerick city. Am I correct to say the current analysis appraisal is about the use of existing resources first? We have public land where a second rail line was taken up between Limerick Junction and Limerick city, which in hindsight should never have been taken up. It is based on the provision of public lands owned by Irish Rail for the second rail line. It will cost €60 million and it will speed up the rail network. Two other rail lines were proposed, one from Charleville to Limerick via the old line, which would go via Macroom and Patrickswell, and one was a crazy, cross-country route that gave people living along that route huge anxiety, when, financially and in every other way, it does not make sense. On the rail line, is it expected that the upgrade will mean a double line between Limerick Junction and Limerick city, which I understand will take 15 minutes off the timeframe? Is that what is being looked at on the rail side?
There are three routes. One is the upgrade of the existing rail line. The second was an old rail line that had been taken up and is privately owned now, which will go from Charleville, to Macroom, to Patrickswell and then to Limerick. The other went cross-country from Charleville to Bruree and right across to Killonan. Which two are being considered? Obviously, Limerick Junction to Limerick city is being considered. What is the second one being considered?
It is quite significant if it is down to two, to be honest. I believe it is not proper use of the public purse where there is an existing rail line with only one track. We should put a second one down and see how it works, and that is the most important thing of all.
The second point is that €3 billion has been put out as the overall cost of the project. I do not believe that figure. What is the cost of the project?
We have the Minister for Transport coming out and saying the project is going to cost €3 billion. I have made my own inquiries in regard to an €80 million motorway, and the cost would be significantly less than €1 billion. I need to know where this €3 billion figure is coming from.
I have done my own costings. A motorway would cost anywhere between €7 million and €8 million per kilometre. That is well below €3 billion. It has been put into the public domain that this project will cost €3 billion. I deal in facts. The witnesses from TII have outlined the reason concerning TII ticking the box between €1 billion and €3 billion. That was my understanding. That does not allow someone to extrapolate a figure of €3 billion. I am okay with that. Am I correct in saying that the cost of a motorway per kilometre is roughly between €7 million and €8 million per kilometre?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
We were very aware of it with the MetroLink project. We have developed a methodology around cost forecasting involving a bottom-up approach with every element added up, risk put on top and a topdown with reference class forecasting. That will be applied to this project to give a robust cost forecast with levels of confidence before any decision is made about whether to proceed. It is at that time I can be confident about but I do not want to-----
I am happy that I now know where the figure of €3 billion is coming from. It is coming from a box that TII ticked that said between €1 billion and €3 billion and a figure of €3 billion. Mr. Walsh is telling me it will not cost €3 billion and will be nearer €1 billion. Does Mr. O'Neill have details on the routes? There were three routes on the rail. The line between Limerick Junction and Limerick city was upgraded. It is second in line to be laid, cost about €60 million and would make eminent sense to complement a motorway. The second one was the use of an old line in private ownership and takes in Charleville, Bruree, Croom and Patrickswell. Another line was a completely fresh line lain across farmlands from Charleville to Killonan. Which of the two lines are being considered?
So it is three. I am going to be pretty direct. Only one line should be under consideration, namely, the upgrade of the existing line. Irish Rail has already proposed to look at that €60 million. That is the key one that should be considered. The NRA was just dealing with roads. When TII was formed, it was a merger of the Rail Procurement Agency and the NRA itself. TII has the function of securing the provision of, or to provide, such light railway and metro railway infrastructure as may be determined from time to time by the Minister or, in the case of such railway infrastructure within its functional area, by the NTA. Is the NTA involved in determining the rail routes under consideration for the M20 project?
Ms Anne Graham:
Our involvement in terms of the infrastructure side of rail is only in the greater Dublin area so we do not have any statutory role outside the greater Dublin area in terms of rail. We have a role in terms of service delivery on rail. Where we look at transport strategies, the only statutory transport strategy we do is in the greater Dublin area. The others are on a non-statutory basis.
Dare I say it but it is the full responsibility of TII. My views are well known. I have debated this many times. We get a once in a lifetime chance and we must get this right in terms of the motorway from Cork to Limerick, a significant percentage of which has no hard shoulder based on TII's proposal. We have one chance in terms of a proper Atlantic corridor. Common sense must prevail on the rail route. We should upgrade the existing line from Limerick Junction to Limerick city with a double line in. We would be using existing resources, which makes eminent sense. There was no modelling of the other two routes in the original document either in terms of cost or any other factor. I think that will be done now. The old line from Charleville to Croom to Patrickswell and the one from Charleville to Killonan that was never under consideration should not be under consideration. The line from Limerick Junction to Limerick city is the key one.
I thank Mr. Walsh and Ms Graham for appearing before us. I think Mr. Walsh spoke about the sanctity of the planning process. This is not the first time there has been interaction regarding the significant difficulties in the planning process. Obviously, we have the Attorney General's review at this point in time. What is the roadmap for the witnesses in respect of that? Have they made a submission or will they make one? Has there been at least an initial conversation because this is obviously all about streamlining the process. There have been occasions when consultation at an early stage could have dealt with some difficulties. If we are going to have multiple lines of a process, including An Bord Pleanála, we need it resourced up to the hilt so there is no slowdown. What needs to change? What could improve this? Have the witnesses had any interaction that has only begun?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
I personally have not had any interaction with the process so far. We have had consultation through the Taoiseach's office around ways in which the planning process might be improved or concerns around it. Staff members from TII are contributing to that process. I cannot say more than that. I do not have any detail as to where it stands but we are being engaged with.
We are discussing the national development plan. The Minister has previously attended this committee. When people asked about "X", "Y" and "Z" project before the national development plan was published - not that anyone would ever think in a very localised fashion in this committee - he told us that there will be a significant number of projects and spoke about what was almost a system of natural selection regarding the planning process. Therefore, it places a question mark over how much of the national development plan is for real. The witnesses talk about €1 billion for the early part of this decade. It is a considerable amount of money but it is not a huge amount of money. It is about what gets done.
Is there an element of whoever gets through the planning process gets sorted, to a degree, and that anybody else does not, bar, hopefully, the system being sorted out? Can I ask the witnesses for an opinion on that?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
Yes, if it can be taken as an opinion. There is a very significant difference between a project that has planning approval and one that has not got to that stage of development. If a project has planning approval, it will attract and require more support. That is not an insignificant stage in its development. In many cases, large projects would already have been the subject of a memo to Cabinet and would have full Cabinet consideration and support. We had that in the case of the Galway city ring road and the N21-N69 bypass. The status that planning approval gives to a project should not be underestimated.
We are confident we can progress projects within the ten years of the plan. I did not want to come before the committee and give the impression that everything was going at full tilt within the envelope of €5.1 billion. I believed it was important that the early years of constraint were understood.
The second half is also meant to be the business end in the context of carbon budgets and reductions for every sector. That creates difficulties and gives rise to further questions about what will be delivered, but what has been said has been said.
I will move on very quickly to the strategic rail review. Again, there is a reiteration of the promise of electrification of the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise service.
I accept that. In fairness, the promise is for 2027. Can I rely on that as a possible date? Is there is any possibility of it being moved forward? The electrification of new stock is absolutely necessary due to carbon emissions, etc. It also makes it a more viable service between Dublin and Belfast and it is vital to my bailiwick.
I accept that. I am taking the 2027 date straight from the NDP and promises made in it previously.
I will raise something Ms Graham said the other day when she spoke about hubs, BusConnects, etc. Somebody asked about Cavan and referred to the fact that more services would be put on to facilitate Dundalk Institute of Technology, DkIT. That level of planning for the likes of DkIT, and what is involved in it, is absolutely necessary from the perspective of an essential education institute that will, hopefully, eventually achieve technological university status. It also serves a certain bailiwick, which will probably expand. Can Ms Graham add any detail about that?
Ms Anne Graham:
The Deputy is referring to Connecting Ireland, which we published last Friday. I am not familiar with the details. All I know is the Connecting Ireland proposals very clearly set out what is involved in the improvement of services. If we set out in the document that DkIT is one of the areas for which we want to see improved services, that is certainly what we want to deliver. Connecting Ireland is open for consultation. We want to get feedback from people throughout Ireland on whether the service plan we have put forward is appropriate for their county and if they want to see anything additional, or any changes, to the network we are proposing.
Ms Graham gave a comprehensive answer to the Chair regarding ticketing and so forth. I will revisit the idea of changed circumstances, post pandemic, as regards weekly ticketing and all that. I know there has been some element of over and back in respect of this issue, which Ms Graham and other stakeholders have been involved in. Where are we on a saver-type ticket that might operate on the basis of people only using it for two days a month or over a period to suit the modern working set-up?
Ms Anne Graham:
We are looking at that. We were hoping to provide something, but a significant technical development was required. We were already in the middle of a taxsaver project to deliver a better taxsaver solution generally, but we need to reconsider what we will provide as a taxsaver product in future and the level of charge that should be placed on a such a ticket. We have had to rethink that completely. We are very much aware that as people's travel patterns change, and we expect them to change post pandemic, we have to offer something different. We are now examining what that something different should be and whether it should be done through the taxsaver system. That is what we are considering at the moment. We are trying to see how we can deliver that as quickly as possible. There is a technical solution that we just have to work through in order to ensure we can deliver something.
I accept all the caveats and all the rest of it. I accept this issue partly relates to the shared island unit, but is there anybody present who has any level of responsibility for or engagement in respect of the Narrow Water bridge project?
Does TII have any involvement with it? I imagine that it will be a road across the Border and the project is being dealt with through the shared island unit. There have been promises for delivery in 2023, but does TII have any engagement on it, at this point?
I accept that. In fairness, it seems to be moving in the right direction. Like everything, there is an element of doubting Thomas and seeing is believing. That is just what we want to see.
Ardee bypass was mentioned. As time drifts on, there is sometimes an element of the difficulty of changed circumstances. We probably need to look more at an element of flexibility in respect of the planning process. That could be part of the review, but the promise to build the bypass is there. The questions I have, in particular, are about where things stands regarding the N2 upgrade between Ardee and Castleblayney. The TII representatives might not necessarily have that information to hand.
The N53 project is probably well under way at this point. I am just trying to get some sort of timeframe for it. If it is possible to come back to me on that, I would be happy enough.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
I had better come back to the Deputy on both those matters. On the Ardee-N52 bypass, I know progress has been made on amending the design to address issues raised last year about the junctions and the manner in which they operated. It will go back into the planning process to secure planning approval for the revised design. It is progressing in that way.
I apologise for being late; I was engaged in something else. What I want to deal with is almost a parish pump issue. It comes from Galway, but I do not live there anymore so I cannot be accused of parish pump politics. It turns out the BusConnects service for the villages of Corrandulla and Annaghdown, as laid out in the NDP, seem to be at least 1 km away from Corrandulla and 10 km away from Annaghdown.
We have been working on this route for the past couple of years to try to get it up and running. I have a letter here from a member of a local authority, which I am happy to share if anyone wishes to have a look at it.
This is a serious issue in respect of the Annaghdown and Corrandulla areas, especially if we are trying to get people from what I call minor population areas just outside Galway city into the city itself. Getting buses into those two villages is important if we want to achieve that objective. In his letter, Councillor James Charity refers to the proposed 22A and 21A bus routes serving Corrandulla and Annaghdown. There is a suspicion that this was done at a desk and not on the ground and that nobody actually looked at where the buses were going.
Yes, but I am not going to put Ms Graham on the spot about this today, because that would be grossly unfair. A problem that might exist elsewhere in the system is identified. I refer to a proposed route that is supposed to hit a particular village but that is some-----
We have been a long time trying to get Corrandulla and Annaghdown catered for. They had a bus service previously but then lost it. There was some discussion about bypassing Galway or putting a ring-road around the city. I wish that project well. My point, though, is that it is important to get people into the city. I am sorry that I was late arriving and that I missed the witnesses' presentations.
No, I am not going to put Ms Graham on the carpet today to talk about one micro issue. I just wanted to highlight it as an issue that must be examined. Ms Graham has been forthcoming in saying that she is willing, as part of the public consultation, to take these things on board. I will also share this document with her, and she might then respond to me directly with an answer.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. Many of the questions I was interested in concerning the region I line in have already been addressed. Some issues remain, though. I apologise for being somewhat parochial, but the Killaloe bypass in County Clare, which involves a road connecting Birdhill in County Tipperary with Ballina and Killaloe, before continuing into east Clare, has been discussed for some time. It is again mentioned in the development plan. Some enabling works have been done to clear lands on either side of the Shannon on the Clare-Tipperary border. Like others, and in light of the publication of the plan, I would like to get indicative timelines regarding when the substantial element of the project, which is, effectively, the bridge for the new river crossing, will commence and the expected completion date for the project.
That is fine. Turning to the rail project that has been mentioned in conjunction with the Limerick regional plans, that of a rail link spur from the Limerick-Ennis line to Shannon Airport, that project has also been around for some time. I ask some of our guests to enlighten us some more about the specifics of that project. A report compiled 17 or 18 years ago examined what would be required to make such an undertaking viable and it found that a dual-track section of line would need to be constructed on part of the existing line to allow for the necessary frequency of trains. I would like more details on that aspect. Similar to my query on the road project, I would like an indicative timeline for when this rail work will commence and the envisaged time to completion.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
The rail link to Shannon will be part of the revised Limerick-Shannon transport strategy and consultation will start on this in January. It is still in its embryonic stages, however. We have enough work done to understand how it could be built, but we do not have an alignment or any of that detail. It may not need to be a twin track. It may be sufficient to have a single-track line and have passing loops at the stations. That level of detail, however, is all to follow. At this stage, what we have is a strategy concept and that is as far as development has gone. The proposal must emerge as an individual project later for much more forensic development.
Can Mr. Creegan give me some indication of the timing in this regard then? A plan exists for the next several years, but can Mr. Creegan give me some idea of whether this will happen in this decade or are we talking about from 2030 onwards?
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
Governments will make decisions subsequently. In our view, this project is unlikely to be delivered in this decade. There must be some further consolidation of development in various places to make it a more viable project. Even the planning process is a long one, as the members of the committee will be aware. Our view, then, is that this project is unlikely to be delivered in this decade. It is being included in the strategy and it can be planned and provided for, but it is a long-term rather than a short-term project. That is our view, and I appreciate that others may have different perspectives.
That is okay. Some of the other public transport issues have already been addressed. I had a concern about the payment issues, and I thank Ms Graham for her answers on that subject. In this day and age, it is somewhat absurd to have such issues, given the chip-and-PIN technology which exists. Much of the increasing use of such technology is being rapidly advanced by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, because people are carrying much less cash and change. It is necessary to quickly advance this chip-and-PIN and touch technology. It should be available not just in taxis, as was rightly identified, but on all public transport. The Leap card already exists. I am not a technical expert in this area, but I assume that the technology is there to make it possible to deal with the major card operators in this context.
I ask Ms Graham to elaborate on that aspect. Laypersons will welcome that the NTA is going to engage with the taxi industry to ensure that all taxis must provide facilities for electronic payment. It is not really a feature in rail because everyone now books online. People go to the train station to buy tickets, rather than buying them onboard, and it is possible to do that electronically. As Senator Dooley asked, however, why is it not possible to get on a bus and, with all the modern advances in technology, pay a fare by tapping one's credit or debit card?
Ms Anne Graham:
It is because the ticketing technology on the buses is well over ten years old. In some cases, it is 15 or nearly 20 years old, and those ticket machines are on a large proportion of our buses. The Leap card system is now ten years old as well. It was also not built to be able to take bank payments. A different reader is required to allow that to happen.
We do have a project to get there but we are only at the stage now that it is built into the BusConnects project and the funding is coming through. It also requires significant funding to deliver it.
Ms Anne Graham:
As I said, it will be two to three years. We would like to have started a lot earlier but where we are is that we have started procurement of the next-generation ticketing, which includes all of the features the Deputy has mentioned with regard to bus services in particular. We are trying to identify a couple of other projects that could be delivered earlier that would allow a little bit more flexibility. We already have the mobile TFI Go app, which allows people to use their mobile phones for payments. We are also looking to try to virtualise the Leap card so it would also be on mobile phones.
There is no criticism here. I recognise that to roll-out technology like this takes a lot of time. There were similar issues with integrated ticketing on the Leap card. It has got there and that is fantastic. In and around the cities the real time information display equipment is very good. There have been many positive advances and I thank the witnesses for this and the work they have done. It is the same with Local Link and Ms Graham knows my interest in this. She has been proactive in the way this has been managed. I know the payment is a little bit different on the Local Link service because some of it is booked. Does Ms Graham hope to be able to roll out a similar approach?
Ms Anne Graham:
Absolutely. This is one gap in our bus services. The ticketing equipment on those bus services does not support the Leap card. Certainly on our scheduled Local Link services, which are the regular services, we want to ensure we have a ticketing system that can be better integrated. This is part of the connecting Ireland plan. There is no point in having a ticketing system in all of our services that does not support the Leap card or another form of payment. Local Link has to be brought into this family also.
Ms Graham knows the profile of the customers on Local Link and bus services generally of which I am a very strong advocate. It is somewhat easier to get students and younger people before they move towards having personal vehicles. If we can grab them at a certain stage we may ensure we are not looking at a modal shift in the future and they will be harnessed and retained as public transport users. The sooner and quicker we can get into their use of electronic equipment. the better. This includes all of the social media activity. I know some of this is for the operators but if we are to be successful in ensuring the next generation is far more conscious of public transport than perhaps my generation then it really has to be user-friendly with regard to how they live their lives versus the rest of us. I do not suggest Ms Graham is in my age bracket.
I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee. I thank the committee for accommodating me. Mr. Walsh is aware of the huge increase in traffic to Rosslare Europort as a result of Brexit. We have an issue, particularly in the local area, whereby we have had an increase of 400% in commercial traffic travelling through and to the small villages of Kilrane, Rosslare and Tagoat. The issue for many of the locals is that there is not great traffic management. As a matter of fact, there is no traffic management. The locals are complaining about large articulated vehicles parking on the roadside. I am not by any stretch blaming the hauliers or the drivers. It is simply because nowhere is provided for them. Will the witnesses give me information on this? Are there plans for this? Have they visited the area recently?
I appreciate that. In fairness to Wexford County Council in this regard, Eamon Hore has kept us up to date. I sit in on the council meetings. What is being asked is that TII meets the district councillors in Rosslare. There is a very large national school on the roadside. It might be worth a visit to have a look at it.
That is okay but if it is the roads authority perhaps there will be some work in conjunction with it. The access road is expected to be at least two years away. There are treacherous road conditions. We do not expect to see the N11 upgrade for ten years. There is a 400% increase in traffic, creating treacherous road conditions. There are a lot of junctions on the existing road with the 400% increase in traffic. Absolutely nothing has been done to take care of it in a way that makes it safer or improves road safety. As a matter of fact, we have had an issue where a car drove into a house off the Rosslare Road, the national through route as we call it now. There was no getting through to TII or the NTA with regard to how the house might be protected. It was the second time it happened.
I appreciate that. I ask that TII engage on this to see whether something can be done to provide accommodation for the articulated trucks overnight. At present, there is nowhere. It is not a road that can accommodate parking on its side.
Another issue I want to speak about is roads funding, which is a huge bugbear in Wexford. Wexford is deemed to have the worst roads. It is number one on the list as far as primary roads are concerned and fourth with regard to secondary roads. It is fair to say the director of services, Eamon Hore, is quite good. He has intimated that he has been told for years that whatever the spend would be in Wexford County Council it would be matched when it comes to the grants funding. This does not seem to be happening. He is on the record as saying this. It has not happened to date. It is a bit like when the HSE told us to raise money for an MRI scanner. The money has been sitting in an account for five years but the scanner never arrived.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
The funding is based on the condition of the road. Quite a few years ago, we moved to a circumstance whereby the condition of the road surface was the defining characteristic for an intervention. The distribution of funds is done on the basis of need. Thankfully, Wexford has a lot of good subgrade, unlike other areas of the country with very poor ground. It may well be that some areas of the network have not had intervention as frequently. The determination of who gets pavement funding is on the basis of the condition of the pavement. There has never been an issue, and there never will be an issue, whereby we have matched funding. A suggestion that if a local authority comes up-----
I can quote what the director said. Is he correct in this? He said that it has been intimated that if the local authority spends its own money or budget, this would be reflected in Wexford roads grants at the same rate.
That may be my confusion, that that was the same allocation of funding. That is fine. I want to come back to the topic which is more of Mr. O'Neill’s area. I have met him before and it is nice to see him again. I have a question on a climate policy within TII. TII would obviously have a climate carbon policy, would it not, or a carbon footprint policy?
I will tell Mr. O’Neill where it is an issue. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, study on the barrier at the Dublin Port Tunnel says that we have the worst of NOx emissions in the country in this part of the city. It is caused primarily by the fact that we have a toll barrier. Each time a vehicle stops, it expends a litre of fuel into the atmosphere. Has there been any consideration on TII’s behalf to make a representation to remove that barrier or not?
Is it not the case that we need to look after the citizens' lung health? Here, NOx emissions have been way in excess of what is depicted under the European average. We are paying fines on the basis of the NOx emissions expended in this area. These are huge fines. The figure is in the millions. Is there no other way? I do not know of any tunnel in Europe that has a toll barrier as the mechanism for traffic management to be honest. I travelled the world. It is a lame excuse, surely.
Mr. Nigel O'Neill:
Unfortunately, whether there were tolls at the tunnel or not, we would still need barriers. If the demand to use the tunnel exceeds its safe capacity, we would have to meter the traffic going into the tunnel. Metering means that we have to put the barriers down and stop the traffic until the tunnel has cleared-----
Yes, at 80 km/h. Would it not be better from a health perspective to introduce something that does not expend a litre of fuel? Money is being spent on paying fines for the whole year because of expending the fuel. As well as this, money is spent for somebody to operate the barrier. It cannot be cost effective, never mind good from a health perspective.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute and apologise for my late arrival. My train was late, which is ironic considering we are speaking about transport. I see the NTA representatives shaking their heads. I did not get the text alert.
I welcome Mr. Walsh, Mr. O’Neill, Mr. Creegan, and Ms Graham here today and thank them for their attendance at previous committees. I will always be willing to engage with Oireachtas Members and councillors up and down the country because obviously transport, public transport, and active transport are of huge interest to everybody throughout the country. How we get around is not just how we get to work, but how we get to school, to study, to recreation, to public services, and to social services. It is therefore hugely important that we have a functioning transport system in the country.
I look around at the vision and enthusiasm that I see for public transport, especially over the last 18 months to two years. Cork BusConnects was recently announced. There is talk of a feasibility study for a light rail transit system in Galway. Connecting Ireland was launched last week in County Wicklow. I have had great feedback on that. People are looking at the maps. We are connecting towns and villages that never had bus routes before. We are improving the frequency on areas that had that bus transport system but that was not great. I fully support that project. I would like to feed back to the NTA that the representations I have gotten back so far on Connecting Ireland have been positive.
It is worth announcing, as there might be some people watching, that 10 December is the last day for public consultation on Connecting Ireland. People should positively engage where those services and frequencies are improving. It is not just about the countryside. There are improvements in Dublin as well. The BusConnects proposal for Dublin is needed. It will increase frequencies and reliability of journey time. One does not have that with a car. There is no reliability on journey time in a car, whereas if we put in good public transport routes, as well as the spine roots and orbital roots that BusConnects is talking about, there will be reliability in the service. One will be able to go out with a sense of security that it is not likely that they will be late. One will be able to say that if they are on time for their bus, their bus will be running on time, and they will be able to get to work or study on time. That is important.
There has been much talk about rail. I have never heard so many Members be so enthusiastic about rail as they have been in the past 18 months. William Dargan and Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have been delighted. I think that they would like to return to get involved in some of these projects. The suburban rail in Cork is an exciting project. It is badly needed and will bring great benefits to Cork. The Chair mentioned Limerick. Limerick is ideally geographically set up for a suburban rail system, as is the inter-connectivity from Limerick Junction to Cork.
Shannon was mentioned. When we had our submission on the national development plan, NDP, we suggested that a spur to Shannon is important. We looked again in general terms at the economic developments that will happen along the area of the Western Rail Corridor. Rail has always been key to that. Rail actually caused areas to boom economically. We need to service the boom in economies with rail so that people can get around and get to work properly in those locations. I am looking forward to the launch of the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. I should also mention the DART+ scheme, which is a major investment in electrification of rail systems since the first launch of the DART in 1984. We will see electrification to Drogheda and beyond, to Hazelhatch and to Maynooth. I think I have made a good case for Wicklow town and hope that there would be something positive for Wicklow.
It is obviously an area that will grow in population. Electrifying a rail line gives better acceleration and braking capacity for trains on that line, allowing for a greater frequency of service; it makes considerable sense. I have listened to the figures on expenditure on roads at approximately €12 million per mile. A train line can be electrified for €1.5 million or €2 million for the same distance. We could have a very good, electrified service between many of our towns for the cost of building new roads. We need to consider that. The programme for Government commits to a 2:1 ratio of spending between public transport and new roads. We need to do that sensibly. We need to maintain the existing roads. People need roads much of the time and we need to maintain them. However, we need to tip the balance back to public transport.
I have a question for the NTA on the more vulnerable road users. We have talked about bus users and rail users. We have the vision and funding to provide services for them. Our footpaths have become very hostile environments for children trying to walk to school. I am lucky enough to walk my own children to school and I see that in the mornings. Regarding the NTA's active travel objectives, what is the biggest impediment preventing children walking and cycling to school? What targets does it have to try to get back to the levels we had in the 1970s and 1980s where up to 40% of children walked or cycled to school? That is down to very low levels now. What figures would it hope to achieve over a decade of having €360 million per year to spend on active travel?
Ms Anne Graham:
That is a tough question to answer. All I can really talk about is the impediment. I am not sure that we have targets as such yet. The Deputy will know that we are undertaking a Safe Routes to School programme with some of our walking and cycling budget assigned to that. It is about identifying and providing those safe routes. That is done by putting in footpaths where there are no footpaths and safe cycling routes where there are no safe cycling facilities. The biggest impediment we see is ensuring that cycling and walking facilities are safe for all age groups, including children.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
The lack of safe infrastructure, certainly for cycling, is the biggest obstacle. Another significant issue is the location of schools. In many places we need to invest a considerable amount of money to retrofit facilities to serve schools because transport was not a key consideration in the site selection for those schools. How a school will be served by sustainable transport should move up the list of considerations when selecting sites for new schools. That would make it feasible for many more children to be able to get to school by sustainable modes. The biggest single obstacle is getting the safe infrastructure for cycling.
Deputy Matthews has made an excellent point. Have the NTA or local authorities done an audit of all the primary and secondary schools to see how safe they are and how they can be linked up with footpaths or whatever. It is obviously a key way to get active travel going. Rather than reinventing the wheel, has that body of work been done? People are now older when doing their driving test. In my day, people did it at 17 or 18; it was a rite of passage. Now many of them are holding off until their early 20s. For many of them it is a nuisance, but it may be their only transport option. They are very into public transport. If the public transport is good enough, they will stick with it, but if it is not there, I see it in real time.
I apologise to Deputy Matthews; I did not mean to encroach on his time. I take Mr. Creegan's point on the bus shelters in all the towns and villages. Has an audit of all schools, possibly by the local authorities, been considered? It is money well spent and value for the taxpayer. Many schools were very annoyed that they did not receive funding for the Safe Routes to School programme funded by the Department. There is an appetite among the parents, students and schools. It is a win at every level. Is such an audit being considered?
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
The short answer is "Yes". The slightly longer answer is as follows. We deliver the Safe Routes to School programme and the Green Schools programme through the green schools section of An Taisce. It is very well run and very well managed. Most schools are enthusiastic about it. The green school section has carried out audits of many, although not all, of the schools that were willing to have such an audit. That has allowed it to recognise the needs of individual schools. It now becomes a challenge to work with the local authorities to put in place what are sometimes very expensive investments to provide the connections, but as part of the overall programme.
The Chairman raised some good points and I am glad he brought them into the discussion. Mr. Creegan hit the nail on the head about safety. I visited one of my local schools, St. Andrew's, in Bray recently to talk to the students about transport. The overwhelming desire from those students was to have safe cycle routes to school. They all want to cycle to school. They probably would all attempt to cycle to school, but it is probably the parents who will not let them. I would be the same. I would be concerned about letting my child cycle on certain roads to go to school; we need that safe infrastructure. Local authorities have a significant role to play in this. We need to give councillors the support and the powers to be able to allocate road space for safe cycling infrastructure. I thank Mr. Creegan for that.
I have a question for TII on the carbon cost of infrastructure. We keep referring to the cost per mile of motorway or dual carriageway at €12 million per mile and say we could electrify five miles or six miles of single-line or double-line rail for that and get more people travelling on it with a lower carbon footprint. Does TII factor the cost of carbon into projects when comparing public transport with roads projects? This includes the embedded cost of the construction material but also the fact that for the next 20, 30 or 40 years we will have carbon-emitting vehicles on those roads. Despite the move to electric vehicles, petrol and diesel cars are still being bought which will still be on the roads for the next 20 or 30 years.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
There is carbon assessment as part of the appraisal of projects. It is fair to say the carbon assessment influences the outcome of the appraisal of a project to a very small extent. The national development plan would indicate a commitment from Government and from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to review the way carbon is priced and the way the calculations are done to appraise a project. Similarly, further to discussions between the NRA and the evaluation unit of the Department of Transport, we are expecting a revision of the public spending code appraising mechanisms and the common appraisal framework for transport projects.
The value of carbon in the current appraisals is probably too low. TII is developing a carbon tool. It has been in development for a few years and is at quite an advance stage. That allows us to look at the embedded carbon of any project and any options within that project. We have got it to some degree of accuracy, but more work remains to be done. Environmental product declarations are required for all the materials used in the construction of every element of a road project and they are not universally available. There has been some improvement in that over the past year or two.
Deputy Verona Murphy earlier referred to congestion as a significant contributor to carbon emissions. Where congestion can be addressed, the benefit of removing that congestion should be considered. The benefits available by creating an environment within an urban area that can accommodate active travel measures should also be looked at. That is not being appraised at the moment. The focus is very much on the time savings associated with a project and the valuation of time really swamps everything else over the lifetime of a project.
Perhaps Mr. Walsh could estimate to the nearest €1 billion to €3 billion, as was discussed earlier. If we had to put a tick in a box and the options increased by increments of €1 billion, what figure would it be at? I am asking for rough figures.
I thank our guests for the answers they have given so far. I want to ask something quite interesting. It is a matter of importance to all of us whether it is for public transport projects or road projects and Ms Graham and Mr. Walsh, or any of the members of the teams who are accompanying them, may wish to comment. I would like to get their feedback. In 2013, a new set of rules was introduced around the public spending code, including new feasibility studies and different mechanisms in order to judge the value of whether projects should be funded. I feel that in some cases projects are a little more clearcut, including lower-value projects such as those in Castlemartyr and Killeagh where the cost falls below €100 million. I am thinking of smaller-scale road projects. How much time does it generally take from the proposition of a project to its getting through the public spending code process? Perhaps Mr. Walsh could answer that as it applies to road projects. He might leave some time for an answer from Ms Graham and I would not mind coming back in too.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
The public spending code element of the delivery of a major roads project can be very short. It could take 15 years to get through the planning process. The public spending code has a number of gates within the process, one for a strategic appraisal report, another before going into the planning process and another before going to tender. Those processes can be very short. They could take several months.
We could say, in a hypothetical situation, that if the Castlemartyr and Killeagh scheme was to be put forward by the Government, it could get through the process in approximately six months if all was going to plan.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
It is very difficult to know or to be too definitive. In fairness to the Department of Transport and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, time is required to scrutinise applications properly. They have teams and resources that are limited. If they get two or three projects in at the same time, I am sure that causes problems with progressing them. We have had projects turned around very quickly. For example, the Cork to Ringaskiddy project was turned around quickly by the Department of Transport. We have had projects that have taken a lot longer. For example, the Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge project took over six months for its business case to be approved. What we are thinking is that we should be allowing six months.
As a public representative, I would say the perception is nearly that the process can take more than a year, from time to time. I have that impression from conversations at local authority level, with State agencies and other feedback I have received. It is interesting to get that clarification.
I will turn to Ms Graham. For key public transport projects, including new rail projects, we are going to be putting a significant amount of investment into our public transport network in the course of the next two decades. Is the public spending code a cause of concern around the slowing down of projects and trying to test their feasibility when there is almost open acknowledgement, in many cases, that there is an urgent need for increased investment to increase public transport capacity?
Ms Anne Graham:
Any project, particularly when the cost is in the billions, should go through an assessment process. It would be appropriate that it goes through a stringent assessment process at the different stage gates. If it takes an average of six months to get through the preliminary business case, that is what it takes and you build that into your timeline.
I was thinking of projects requiring smaller-scale investment. When we are dealing with transport, including public transport, the costs are always in the high hundreds of millions or billions. Many of those sorts of schemes are enormous, for example, metro north. I am thinking of smaller projects that come in under €100 million. Does Ms Graham think those six-month delays are necessary? I view it as a delay because the projects eventually get signed off anyway. I am not aware of any road project that has been axed because of the public spending code since its implementation in 2013. The point I am making relates to the efficiency of getting these projects done in all quarters. Is that a question worth asking, from Ms Graham's point of view?
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
A project with a cost of less than €100 million does not require Government approval. Such projects require a decision from the approving authority. There are certain technical reviews built in. We do not see the public spending code as an obstacle. There is good practice in there that needs to be followed.
My question is for the representatives of the NTA. I will follow up on a previous question about the roll-out of Connecting Ireland. Some 10% of that programme is set to be rolled out in 2022. Is there a prescribed budget for that programme over the period 2022 to 2025? If 10% is to be completed next year, that leaves 90% to be made up in the following two years.
Ms Anne Graham:
It is an annual budget. Given that we are only at the start of the Connecting Ireland programme, we requested some funding to get us going for 2022. We were happy to receive funding and will move forward with it. The funding will obviously have to be increased for the remaining years in order to deliver the programme within the timeframe. That will be an annual request.
I have written to the NTA in the past asking about the issue of fares, which comes up time and again, specifically rail fares. Let us take Gormanston station as an example. As a result of the fare structure, Gormanston station is underutilised. What happens is that the people in Stamullen, which is in my constituency, bypass Gormanston and go to Balbriggan. There have been issues around car parking charges.
The nature of a border is that somebody falls outside it but does the NTA recognise the issue there? Is there a-----
Ms Anne Graham:
We are very much aware of the issue because it is raised with us constantly and on an annual basis. We try to ease the difference between the short hop fares, which are generally in commuter zones, versus longer distance fares, which are generally InterCity fares. We have been trying to ease that and are also undertaking a full review of rail and bus fares to set up a structure that will work across our public transport system for longer distance fares. Given what we are doing and are going to implement in terms of DART expansion, it is relevant that we look at the fares again.
Will the TII representatives explain: "M50 Traffic Control and Management including Variable Speed Limits ... to be complete in early 2023"? That is only a year away effectively. What will we see and what will it cost? Regarding another reference in the NDP to longer term proposals, is the M50 Dublin Port south access road the eastern bypass or is it something else? What is meant by M11 capacity improvements?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
Traffic management and control on the M50 is a project launched by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, a couple of weeks ago. We can now have variable speed limits indicated on gantries over the motorway. It would be an advisable speed limit for the next year. Depending on traffic volumes and prevailing weather conditions, particularly, an appropriate speed is indicated on the gantry. We ask that everybody observes that speed limit. It makes it safer and improves the capacity. It is safer for road users generally and in the event of incidents, of which there are many on a daily basis on the M50. It is for the safety of the people attending and involved in those incidents.
Mr. Peter Walsh:
At the moment, there is an introductory period, which is typical internationally because this these systems are used internationally. They are advisory but under the Road Traffic and Roads Bill under consideration it would become an offence and we would set statutory speed limits, determined and illustrated on overhead gantries, and lane control. At that point, if there is an incident, the gantry signs will indicate whether that lane is closed or not, and drivers need to leave that lane.
I thank Mr. Walsh and move to the NTA. We have not said much about BusConnects. There was a lot of noise about it when it came out first. We had the Secretary General in a couple of weeks ago and he said they would take two years each and there are about ten of them but some of them can be done at the same time. When will we see real benefits from BusConnects? Has the NTA overcome all the challenges about trees, gates, fences, walls and everything and anything that was put out there? Some of that was legitimate and some was a bit exaggerated. When will we see BusConnects delivering for people?
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
On the infrastructure side, it is fair to say that through consultation we have addressed many of the issues but I would not want to give the impression we have addressed them all. Plenty of people are still unhappy with the proposals but we have gone a long way towards addressing a lot of concerns. We are waiting for the approval of the preliminary business case by the Government. As soon as that is given, we will start submitting our planning application to An Bord Pleanála. We are ready to submit those planning applications next month or-----
We have seen many delays in cycling infrastructure and things like the Strand Road being challenged, though the coastal mobility route, CMR, happened in Dún Laoghaire. Planning seems to be a bottleneck. The NTA is always saying it is awaiting planning applications and so on. Is the planning process a huge barrier to developing transport systems more quickly?
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
The planning process takes time and runs risks of challenges afterwards but it is an essential thing we all have to go through. There may be possibilities of streamlining it, as was mentioned earlier. A review is going on and we will see what happens. It is challenging in terms of time. Once you go into the planning process, you cannot really control your time.
I will ask a simple question which has a complex answer. Do Mr. Walsh and Ms Graham think we will see the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy in our lifetime? We are committed to light rail and to a public transport system that is integrated. We recognise the complexities of public transport provision in the case of Cork. Yet the number of bus journeys, as we heard this week, is quite small. This goes back to my earlier point. We all support and advocate for the vision and principles around integrated transport, the modal shift and offering better public transport. My question is in the context of light rail for Cork; will we see that?
Ms Anne Graham:
If Cork is to develop as set out in the national development plan and to do so in the locations where it is indicated it should, that is, compactly within the city and city centre, then that project should be delivered as part of integrated transport at the latter part of the 20-year transport strategy for Cork. The plans are under way in terms of looking at route alignment but many things have to happen before that project would stack up. It needs to see the intensification of development in the city so the demand will support a light rail system of the future.
In the meantime, as the Senator knows, we are working to improve the rail system. We have launched the BusConnects Cork network proposals and we have moved forward with infrastructure to prioritise buses and cycling. It is all challenging to deliver but that is the plan for Cork. We want to deliver it for the people of Cork.
I ask the question because it goes back to my earlier remarks about project visualisation and delivery. People want to see that. The ambition is one that we all subscribe to and want to see achieved. There is a collective will. Have the NTA or TII made any submission to the Cork city or Cork county development plans currently being drawn up?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
I will have to come back to the Deputy on that. We contribute to all the development plans at consultation phase or when there is statutory consultation. I am sure we have but I can confirm that. Mr. O'Neill and I share the ambition to deliver this. We had the 2000 NDP. Whether we were going to build five major interurban routes was something that we were doubtful of but we did it. If there is political will and funding is provided, as agencies, we would be happy to deliver it.
We mentioned the Galway ring road a while ago. It has been an issue for a long time. A group in Galway has spent an incredible amount of time looking at light rail systems. One issue that I have as we move forward with plans is that, for example, a bridge is being put over the Corrib using the old Clifden line pillars. I understand that it will be a footbridge. My question for Mr. Walsh is about when he is trying to plan for 20 years from now. Should we not look at that and say that instead of putting a footbridge over that, we will put a proper bridge there so that when and if light rail comes along, we are ready, infrastructure is in place, and the expenditure is one-off, rather than trying to retrofit it at some stage? I have seen plans to use buses in Galway. Galway city is not suitable for buses. It strikes me that a light rail system running from Oranmore to Barna would be the ideal way to do it. Deputy Matthews was talking about Limerick and Shannon and Senator Buttimer spoke about Cork. Light rail is the way forward.
I had an interesting call with a manufacturer of very light rail systems in the United States who offered to do the feasibility study for Galway. When we got talking about it, he said that there might be an opportunity to set up a manufacturing plant in Ireland. How do we move that forward? There seems to be a block in the thinking about light rail, that we should use buses because we have buses. These very light rail systems are being set up all over the UK. Why are we not looking at that? Deputy Matthews mentioned the feasibility study. I am not satisfied that that is a full feasibility study for very light rail in Galway. I am sorry for being parochial again. I have not lived there for nearly 40 years.
Ms Anne Graham:
As the Senator knows, we developed a transport strategy with Galway City Council in 2016. We have committed that we will review that strategy again. We are looking at the carbon emissions and the reduction that we have to achieve. As part of that, we would look again at what is appropriate, whether it is light rail, very light rail or bus rapid transit system, and if it would be appropriate in Galway in 20 years. When we assessed it in 2016, with the size of the population of Galway and what was projected, the demand did not support the type of light rail that we have in Dublin. Reassessment is certainly up for consideration as part of the strategy for Galway city.
Would Ms Graham be happy to take a presentation from the committee which has been working on this for a number of years? I am not an expert; Ms Graham is the expert. What has been come up with is imaginative and, from a carbon-neutral point of view, it offers the country an opportunity. Galway city is too narrow in every sense for any sort of transport.
Ms Anne Graham:
We do not agree with the Senator. We propose a BusConnects for Galway. It requires road space being made available for the bus through the centre of Galway, which is part of the proposals for BusConnects. We successfully operate bus services in Galway. Patronage has been increasing yearly. Galway is the first city to have a full low-emissions bus fleet. All of the buses operated by Bus Éireann are low emissions, which has already reduced carbon emissions by up to 30%. Our ambition is to go further than that. We still see buses as having an important role to play in all our cities, including Galway, but we are prepared to re-examine the strategy, given that we probably have to go further to look at light rail.
I will be local and parochial myself now if that is okay. I am open about it. My question is about buses in Wicklow so it is for the NTA, but I also think that TII is involved in the N11 project relating to the express bus routes. A bulletin was released about it lately. What is the latest update on that? When can we expect to see some of those express buses in place? The witnesses said that H-spine and C-spine of BusConnects are operating. When do they expect E-spine to launch? When can we expect to see the looped buses, such as the 214 loop bus for Bray, or the 201 and 202 for the Greystones-Newcastle routes. I would appreciate an update on that.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
There is a joint project to look at how we can provide bus priority along the M11-N11 from Kilmacanogue to the M50. That is at the stage where we are clear about what options we can deliver. I am subject to correction but the intention would be to bring forward a planning proposal next year because it will require some planning. It is probably under Part 8 but I do not want to be definitive yet. The intention is for that to come forward next year.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
What Mr. O'Neill and I were talking about was the infrastructure because the issue was how we take the buses out of congestion along that section of the M11. Clearly, the services can run further so what services we put in place and where they start and finish are to be worked out. Step 1 involves getting the infrastructure in place so that once those services are in place, they are not caught up in traffic congestion.
I appreciate that. Obviously, park-and-ride facilities may have to be set up for that with park-and-stride being the other one where we give someone a bit of exercise when he or she walks to his or her bus or train. Has the NTA looked at that in detail for Wicklow?
I asked Mr. O'Neill about the value of the N20-N69 project. Obviously, I was conscious of the fact that €1 billion has been set aside while €800 million has been committed. This leaves a gap of €200 million give or take. Does Mr. O'Neill know the estimated cost of that?
The first step is to get it through An Bord Pleanála. It is a huge project for the area. Anyone who goes through Adare sees that it is a beautiful village but my God, it is horrendous for traffic so there is a lot involved. Obviously, once this comes out, TII will continue to proceed to tender and then once it has a preferred-----
Mr. Peter Walsh:
To be clear, it is not allocated. What we are receiving is an indication that the funding available will be in the order of €1 billion. It could be €1.1 billion. It is in that order. For that reason and out of respect to the committee, I thought it best to give it as much information as I could.
Why did TII decide to tick the box between €1 billion and €3 billion rather than less than €1 billion? When I did a very rough calculation that even if we go with €10 million per kilometre, that is about €800 million. If we were to upgrade the road link from Limerick Junction to Limerick city, it would be about €60 million. That is about €860 million. If we take that from €1 billion, we still have head room of somewhere between 20% and 25% of an increase so why did TII tick the box €1 billion or above?
But TII must have known that if it was less than €1 billion and TII ticked a box between €1 billion and €3 billion, it would cause confusion in terms of what the project would cost. The project is going to cost in or around €1 billion.
I accept all that. What I am saying is that more particularly, that box should have been the one up to €1 billion - between €1 billion and €2 billion or possibly €2 billion to €3 billion. Regarding the fact that it gave rise to such confusion, Mr. Walsh clarified the costings. If I am correct, I think the current price is between €7 million to €8 million per kilometre. With 80 km, the figure is of the order of €800 million. To upgrade the rail link between Limerick Junction and Limerick city, and Irish Rail is on record on this, it would cost about €60 million. This is way off €3 billion. Mr. Walsh has clarified the points. I know where I am at. Under current prices, and I think it is a reasonable question, would it cost more than €1 billion?
Mr. Peter Walsh:
To address the issue of which box is ticked, one thing we must be very careful about is strategic misrepresentation of the project. We cannot pretend it could cost less. For the proper progression of it and for everybody to be fully informed as to the possible cost consequence of a project, we will err on the side of caution. For that reason, the appropriate box to tick was above €1 billion. It is unfortunate if there are misunderstandings as to what being in that band means.
I welcome the launching of the rural BusConnects project. I am obviously interested in Limerick and a bit of north Tipperary, areas like Newport, Porthill and Ballinahinch. Until what date will the public consultation last?
We have worked with the NTA on bus routes in the city over many years. There are two routes I want to ask about. We have had discussions with the NTA on them and we appreciate the interaction. There is an issue with the 303 bus route, of which the witnesses are probably aware. We have been onto it about the schools on Sexton Street, such as Presentation Primary School, and we have had good engagement locally about finding an accommodation around that route and that area. I saw in the rural BusConnects plan that there will be an increase in the number of bus services in Mungret from four to six per day. Has the NTA considered including Mungret as part of the suburbia and the existing city bus routes and links? Is that something it would consider? It is a high-growth area of population and it is currently on a rural route, the 314.
Ms Graham might come back to me on when she expects the increase in the services on the 314 route to six per day to occur. When doing the BusConnects plan, I ask that she consider including Mungret as part of the suburban link-up. I will come back to her on the 303 bus route. I have ongoing constructive engagement on that with the NTA's people in the area.
I want to ask about determining new routes and ensuring there is sufficient capacity and enough runs to make it viable for a person to use the service. The example that always comes to mind is how Bus Éireann lost out years ago with the Dundalk to Dublin service. It did not put on enough direct routes. When the M1 was properly upgraded and was a single run, Matthews Coaches basically arrived on the scene and produced a brilliant connection for commuters, which made working in Dublin much more viable for a lot more people. I would like to think that the State infrastructure can move faster at this point, but when we are looking at putting new services on we should be able to provide sufficient capacity to make it worthwhile. I accept that in the initial period it has to be built up to a point where it delivers from a business point of view.
Ms Anne Graham:
Services on the long-distance routes are operated primarily on a commercial basis by the likes of Matthews Coaches but also Bus Éireann's Expressway service. The demand for those services comes through us and we licence them, rather than design them. We operate a two-level system - I would not say two-tier - and those services operate across the network. We have commercial bus services provided without State subsidies and we then have our subsidised services, which we try to integrate as best we can with those commercial services.
That is fair enough. Over the years, the Luas has been a real success story. We would all like to have an underground or a metro. In the short term it is a case of ensuring we put on a sufficient number of services in the city and where it matters, if we are talking about connectivity with the airport and everything. Sometimes people can believe it is too difficult. People say they would like there to be a Luas line, an underground or whatever but if we put enough effort into a really good service we can shorten that gap. Is that something the NTA has considered?
Ms Anne Graham:
We look at the services all the time. BusConnects is about getting to the next level up in terms of our services in our cities. We are looking at our town services and towns that do not have services but want to deliver town services. Connecting Ireland is about radically uplifting the level of services delivered in rural Ireland. There is constant revision as regards whether we are serving enough people with our bus services
I ask Mr. Walsh to detail the information that has been given to the Taoiseach's office in relation to planning. Where does TII see the difficulties with that streamlining process? If Mr. Walsh could give a minute on that I would be only too delighted to listen.