Thursday, 17 February 2005
I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise this important matter. Next year the upgrading of the M50 will commence and I hope the last section in Carrickmines and Cherrywood in my constituency will be completed. The building of the port tunnel led to the belief that heavy goods vehicles would be removed from the streets of Dublin city. This dream will not be delivered if the Minister insists on leaving the Dublin port tunnel at an operational height of 4.65 m. The Dublin port tunnel is a vital strategic link in the country's transport infrastructure. We must accommodate in the port tunnel the vehicles which are accommodated on the national network. Motorway bridges around the country are constructed to a height of 5.3 m and the Luas bridge in Dundrum is at a height of 5.5 m.
At a recent public inquiry into the upgrading of the M50-M3 junction, the two tunnels that are proposed to be built at the Castleknock-Blanchardstown interchange are to an agreed height of 5.3 m. The argument that a lane width of 3.5 m is unsafe is simply wrong. The Vielha tunnel which links Spain and France and is a 5 km long tunnel is being constructed to a European standard of 5.3 m wide and a height of 5.25 m. This is international best practice and contradicts the advice that the NRA has given to the Department. The effect of not increasing the tunnel height would be to force "supercube" lorries on to our city streets with all the attendant traffic problems that would result.
On the subject of both safety and traffic management, the ventilation system requires that traffic does not stall in the tunnel so a holding bay at both ends of it, in Ringsend and at Fairview and Drumcondra on the northern side, will have to be established. This will have a direct impact on the management and functioning of the East Link bridge on the south side which currently handles a maximum capacity of 22,000 cars per day.
National Toll Roads has already flagged in the newspapers this week that traffic chaos will ensue to an already gridlocked M50 if these holding bays are to become a reality. If we add to this the five-year road works that the M50 has allowed for, the result would be catastrophic. The sum of €770 million has been invested in the tunnel to date but it will fail in its objective if we continue this approach.
In the past we did not invest in a trefoil system around the Red Cow interchange on the basis of its €65 million cost. We now regret that we did not make such an investment. It is time to call stop and for the Minister to realise that we have to make the right decision before it is too late. We cannot make short-term decisions, as was done by not investing in trefoil junctions.
Consultants estimated that the cost of making the required changes would be in the region of €30 million to €60 million, which is considerably less than their original €100 million estimate when the change was first mooted. While it may delay completion of the project, we should build a tunnel that will serve its purpose and the needs of tomorrow as well as today. The Minister has been warned and it is now time to take action to solve this problem. I urge the Minister for Transport to re-examine the Dublin Port tunnel height.
I wish to reply on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen. The planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority and the local authority concerned which, in the case of the Dublin Port tunnel, is Dublin City Council. The Minister for Transport announced on 21 October 2004 that the operational height of the Dublin Port tunnel will not be changed and that its construction will be completed as planned with an operational height of 4.65 metres. That decision was based primarily on safety grounds but cost and time were also factors.
The options for increasing the height of the tunnel were considered by the National Roads Authority, independent consultants, Atkins, and Dublin City Council. In addition, the contractor, NMI, priced the work which would be involved in increasing the height of the tunnel. It was clear from this analysis that raising the height of the tunnel would not be justified having regard to safety, cost and delay factors. In so far as safety issues were concerned, the main issues related to the reduction in lane widths and increasing kerb height, which would have been required to secure an increase in tunnel height. The implications of overheight HGVs for the rest of the national road network also had to be taken into account.
The priority now is to secure completion as quickly as possible of a safe tunnel facility in line with best international practice. The operational height of the tunnel when complete at 4.65 metres will be greater than that applicable in most other EU member states. I understand from the NRA and Dublin City Council that the construction of the port tunnel is expected to be completed in December 2005 and the tunnel will be open to traffic six to eight weeks later following commissioning of the tunnel's operations and safety features. The issue of traffic management following the opening of the tunnel is a matter for Dublin City Council.
I understand that it is the view of Dublin City Council and the National Roads Authority that the Dublin Port tunnel will facilitate almost all the truck traffic using Dublin Port. Two vehicle height surveys of HGVs using Dublin Port have been carried out, one by the Dublin Port Company and one by the National Institute of Transport Logistics, which indicate that between 0.6% to 1.7% of HGVs entering and leaving the port exceed 4.65 metres. It is clear, therefore, that a very limited proportion of HGVs using the port will not be able to use the Dublin Port tunnel.
The issue of routing of vehicles greater than 4.65 metres will be addressed in the context of a HGV management strategy being prepared by Dublin City Council. I understand that the HGV management strategy, revised to take account of submissions received during a public consultation period, will be published shortly. It should also be noted that the Minister of State at the Department of Transport recently published a consultation document on the broader question of a maximum height limit for vehicles. Some 41 submissions were received from corporate entities, representative groups and individuals. These submissions are being considered with a view to a definitive position on the issue. I hope the foregoing clarifies the position for the Deputy.