Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Question 29: To ask the Minister for Transport the role in the management of traffic he envisages for the proposed Dublin transport authority, particularly in the locations most affected by the development of projects under Transport 21; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41998/06]
The report of the Dublin transport authority establishment team made a number of recommendations in respect of traffic management. The team concluded that there needed to be an integrated policy approach to traffic management across the greater Dublin area, based on international best practice. It recommended that the Dublin transport authority be obliged to prepare a strategic traffic management plan for the greater Dublin area. The Dublin transport authority should also be responsible for co-ordinating the traffic management arrangements during the construction phase of Transport 21.
While traffic management functions should continue to be discharged by local authorities, in exercising their functions they should be obliged to comply with the strategic traffic management plan of the authority. However, the report also recommended that the Dublin transport authority should be given power to decide to perform certain traffic management functions itself or through a third party where it considered this to be more effective. It further proposed that the authority should be empowered to issue policy guidelines and mandatory directions to local authorities in respect of their traffic management functions.
I share the views of the establishment team on the need for an integrated approach to traffic management in the greater Dublin area. I am also of the view that the range of powers for a Dublin transport authority in respect of traffic management proposed by the team would deliver such an integrated approach. These powers would also enable the authority to ensure the effective management of any disruption to traffic caused by construction works during the delivery of key infrastructure projects under Transport 21. The drafting of legislation to give effect to these recommendations is at an advanced stage in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.
I agree with the Minister that the Dublin transport authority should have a key role in traffic management. However, we do not have a Dublin transport authority and we have traffic chaos. I tabled this question in the context of the gridlock we experienced two weeks ago on the N11. That sort of problem will arise on an increasingly regular basis because of the growth in traffic and because many of the public transport measures will not give benefit for many years. The key to survival in coming years is traffic management. We need to invest in it in a major way and give it considerably more prominence and consideration than we have done in the past.
The M50 will be under construction for the next five years regardless of how efficiently it is done. It will get worse. Already 5,000 to 6,000 cars have been displaced away from it on a daily basis and are now using local roads, which adds further to congestion. The big dig for the metro and Luas lines is about to commence. All these projects will happen in the context of a city that needs to keep functioning. The only way for this to happen is through immediate short-term measures. While it would be great to have a strategic plan, what short-term measures does the Minister have in mind? Will he give consideration to the suggestion I made here of having a special traffic management officer corps within the Garda reserve? I ask him to discuss the matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Despite the large numbers we are told are in the traffic corps, in reality at any given time only a small finite number is on duty in Dublin and even that number is a drain on Garda resources. It is not a fraction of the number required to keep Dublin going. For example no additional gardaí were available for deployment on the M50 when the work started, which cannot be allowed to continue. As the Minister probably realises, there were 100 accidents in the first month, every one of which resulted in a traffic jam. It will get worse and needs to be addressed. While I realise it is not entirely an issue within the transport portfolio, it is an issue that needs to be considered.
The Deputy raises an issue that is very much part of a modern developing economy. I agree the way Ireland has developed has resulted in this becoming a very significant issue. The NRA has managed its contracts — for example the Naas dual carriageway — with very strict penalties. It compelled the contractors to keep two lanes open in both directions, which worked very well. The issue on the N11 was one of those unexpected sudden issues that occurred. We would all agree that it could have been handled better. I am struck by what the team has done in traffic management. The Deputy has referred to the two key issues. The development of a specific on-street traffic corps on the beat as opposed to in vehicle is a significant traffic management feature in major cities similar to Dublin. This week I saw figures showing that we have almost 2.2 million vehicles on our roads. The growth is continuing apace. We need very significant control centres capable of monitoring and controlling the entire area, to reflect traffic flows, to change traffic signals, to assist public transport and a range of other issues. This is a further reason for having the Dublin transport authority, which can introduce the required technology.
There is no simple solution. In some respects Operation Freeflow has worked well in some areas and in other areas it has not delivered the sorts of results we would like. The disjointed way in which traffic management has been handled in the capital city is not satisfactory. Ceding authority to the DTA will give a tremendous impetus in that it will have an overview. Working in conjunction with the local authorities to implement some of the different policy areas will clearly bring benefit. It is not a question of resolving this. From what I have seen as best practice in a very short space of time, it is a complex issue requiring interaction between physical presence of gardaí or others at many of the junctions, the technology that is involved and having a strategic plan in place.
The planning, design and implementation of national roads improvement projects, including the Dublin Port tunnel and the M50, is a matter for the National Roads Authority and the local authorities concerned.
Traffic management in general is a matter for the appropriate local authority notwithstanding what I have said about what will happen in future. In the case of the Dublin Port tunnel, that authority is Dublin City Council. The relevant local authorities have entered into an arrangement with Dublin City Council for the co-ordination of the management of the junctions and the associated traffic signals along the M50. Dublin City Council is the lead authority on behalf of the other authorities.
I remind the House of the benefits of the Dublin Port tunnel, the largest civil engineering project ever undertaken in Ireland and one of which we should be proud. It will provide access to and from Dublin Port for almost 2 million truck journeys each year to the motorway network, instead of passing through city centre streets and residential areas. This will have obvious benefits for the business and haulage sectors with the dramatic reduction in journey times from the M50 to and from Dublin Port — it will soon be a journey of six minutes. It will also provide much needed improvement to the environment of the city centre and will facilitate the introduction of traffic calming measures in residential areas. The improvement of public transport will also be facilitated through the introduction of additional quality bus corridors along the quays, which will come into being when the port tunnel opens.
In respect of the traffic impact of the tunnel on the M50, I understand from the NRA that of the 6,300 heavy goods vehicles of three or more axles that will use the Dublin Port tunnel each day, it is expected that approximately 1,500 HGVs of five axles or more will be obliged to use the West Link section of the M50 when the HGV management strategy is introduced by Dublin City Council. Most of these, however, will use the section at off-peak times because ferries come into Dublin Port early in the morning, which is good news. To deal with the increased traffic, additional lanes have been added to the motorway north of the tunnel. This will aid truck movements towards or away from the M50. The manoeuvring required will be no different to that required at any of the existing M50 interchanges.
In the longer term, the current phase 1 of the M50 upgrade works will be completed in mid-2008 and barrier-free tolling at the West Link will be in place by the third quarter of 2008. These measures will greatly improve traffic flow on the M50 in a period of less than two years. Further benefits will ensue, with an improved level of service to motorists when the full upgrade of the M50 is completed in 2010.
The NRA, local authorities and the Garda are co-operating very closely to ensure everything possible is done to mitigate the impact of the upgrade work on traffic flows on the M50. The authorities and the Garda are in regular contact and the situation is kept under constant review. With regard to the current upgrade works, both South Dublin County Council and the contractor have dedicated personnel working full-time on traffic management. This was the situation at Naas, where it worked extremely well.
I am satisfied that no effort is being spared by those responsible for traffic management and law enforcement to alleviate the problems on the M50 in so far as that is possible. The inclusion of the M50 in the Operation Freeflow launched on Monday, 27 November 2006 will also assist with management of the traffic.
Specifically in respect of the Dublin Port tunnel, my Department has been keeping in touch with all stakeholders, including Dublin City Council and the NRA, to ensure a co-ordinated strategy, which takes account of the management of HGVs in Dublin city and the traffic impact on the M50, is developed for the opening of the tunnel. The development and implementation of the HGV management strategy is a matter for Dublin City Council. I understand this will be introduced on 19 February 2007. This will allow for a bedding in period of a number of weeks, which is normal.
My Department's formal role is to put in place the necessary regulations relating to traffic and road signage to support the HGV management strategy. The drafting of these regulations is closely co-ordinated with Dublin City Council and I expect to sign them shortly.
The Minister's reply appears to indicate that he does not have a strategy to deal with the hugely increased traffic volumes that are going to arise on the M50, specifically on the West Link section, when the port tunnel opens. It is all very well for Deputy Cullen to state the city council is responsible for this and that the NRA is responsible for that. He is the Minister for Transport and he is charged with responsibility for ensuring a strategy is put in place to deal with traffic in the greater Dublin area.
The situation on the M50, particularly the West Link section, is intolerable. From the middle of February, a huge number of additional vehicles will be disgorged from the port tunnel onto the M50. It seems there is no strategy in place to deal with this eventuality. We will move from a situation that is intolerable to one that could prove potentially impossible by next February. The Minister has not outlined any action he proposes to take to deal with that matter.
The Minister recently announced the Government's intention to buy out NTR. Whatever about the pros and cons of doing so, will the Minister consider including in the negotiations with NTR the possibility of the Government obtaining control of the West Link toll bridge, not years from now but from an early date? If this is done, the Minister and his agents will be in a position to manage the situation that will arise at the West Link when the additional trucks to which I refer spill out of the port tunnel and onto the M50. If the Minister was given power in this regard, he could decide to lift the barriers at certain times when the situation becomes completely intolerable or he could, for example, vary the toll to ensure better usage of the West Link and the M50. Assuming responsibility for the West Link would give the Minister scope to manage a difficult traffic situation. In addition to the extra traffic volumes that will arise, we must remember that the M50 will be a construction site for the next four to five years.
The Minister and his Department have known for the past ten years that the port tunnel would eventually be completed and that it would disgorge the heavy trucks to which I refer. I contest the figure of 1,500 the Minister provided in respect of the latter. In reply to a parliamentary question I tabled recently, the Minister referred to 2,200 trucks of five axles or more. We must also remember that other, lighter trucks will also be using the port tunnel to get to the M50. The Minister has been aware of this for the past ten years and he should have made preparations in respect of it. The upgrading works should have been completed in advance and barrier-free tolling should be in place. Regrettably, this has not been done. In light of that, will the Minister consider seeking to gain early control over what is happening at the West Link in order that some kind of sanity might be brought to bear in respect of the situation that is likely to arise from next February when the port tunnel opens?
The Deputy raised a number of points. It is amazing that I am continually obliged to come before the House to listen to discussion of this project, which involves putting in place the largest, single item of infrastructure in Europe at a cost of €750 million, by experts who know nothing about it and who have not seen it function. I reject the notion the port tunnel will somehow not make a substantial contribution in respect of traffic management in Dublin. There is no doubt that it will do so.
One of the major impacts of the Dublin Port tunnel, to which the Deputies opposite refuse to refer, is the immediate benefit it will have for Dublin's streets and for its people and those who visit the city and do business here on a daily basis.
I outlined earlier the number of vehicles to which the HGV strategy will refer and which will use the port tunnel. I also outlined the fact that most of the additional vehicles that are expected to appear on the M50 will use the road at off-peak times. This will help to balance the flow.
One would prefer if the M50 had been completed before the opening of the port tunnel.
——road development, health, education or any other matter of which one cares to think. I can only go by the Deputy's party's record and her particular interest in the development of public transport and road development.
Immediate benefits will result from the opening of the port tunnel.
I look forward to an outcome similar to that achieved in respect of the Naas dual carriageway which, when expanded to three lanes, transformed travel in and out of the city. The development of the Naas dual carriageway was completed with two lanes of traffic flowing in each direction. The position relating to the M50 is the same.
On the Deputy's final point in respect of the NRA, she is correct in that discussions have taken place between the NRA and NTR regarding a range of issues relating to the M50 toll bridge, the toll plaza and the space on either side. I am driven by one outcome, namely, to dramatically improve the lot of drivers using the M50. That will be to the forefront in the context of whatever deal we strike.