Thursday, 28 June 2007
Roads Bill 2007 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I take this opportunity to wish the Ceann Comhairle every success in his new position.
The Roads Bill 2007 represents an important step in ensuring the implementation of the most modern and efficient system of levying tolls on national roads. It puts forward measures to further improve the efficient and cost effective delivery of the national roads programme under the framework of Transport 21.
The principal purpose of the Bill is to provide the necessary statutory basis to facilitate the implementation of free-flow, open-road tolling, also known as barrier-free tolling, on toll-based national road schemes, through the provision of appropriate deterrents for non-payment of tolls. The Bill provides for the redesignation of certain high quality dual carriageways to be motorways; the provision of service and rest areas on the national road network; some technical amendments to various sections of the Roads Act 1993 and a number of amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2003; and the making of by-laws to deal with the issue of parking at sports stadia on event days.
The provisions of the Bill were well received by all sides during its passage through the Seanad in March. There was a positive and constructive debate among our Seanad colleagues on the key aspects of the Bill. Enactment of the Bill before the summer recess is essential if the ambitious timeframe for the introduction of barrier-free tolling is to be met.
The primary purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the introduction of free-flow tolling on the M50. While barrier-free tolling is the centrepiece of the Bill, it is not a panacea for the traffic problems that are experienced on a daily basis by commuters using the M50. The lifting of the barriers is only one part of the Government's M50 strategy. This Government and the National Roads Authority are fully committed to improving the level of service provided to motorists on the M50 and believe this will be best achieved through the M50 upgrade, including the interchanges coupled with the move to barrier free tolling. I will talk in more detail about the various aspects of barrier free tolling a little later. I take this opportunity to inform the Dáil on the progress we have made and are making on the M50.
That M50 upgrade project involves the widening of around 34 km of motorway from two to three lanes in each direction — with a fourth auxiliary lane in places — from south of the M50-M1 interchange near Dublin Airport through to the Sandyford interchange. Critically, it involves the upgrade of ten junctions along this length.
There is no quick fix for congestion on the M50. The total cost of the upgrade is approximately €1 billion and it is being undertaken in three phases. Once complete in 2010 the upgrade will bring significant benefits, as it will expand the capacity of the M50 to deal with at least 50% more traffic than at present; improve average peak hour speeds; reduce traffic congestion on the radial routes, N3, N4 and N7; and improve traffic flow on the whole of the Dublin road network.
All the agencies, including South Dublin County Council, Dublin City Council, the National Roads Authority and the Garda are co-operating closely to ensure that everything possible is done to mitigate the impact of the upgrade work on traffic flows on the M50. 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 possible and I thank them for their efforts.
Since this issue has received considerable comment, I would just say that the M50 works are progressing as quickly as possible. A constant criticism voiced is that little or no work is carried out during the evening or at weekends. Night-time work regularly takes place on this project but only within the restrictions of the An Bord Pleanála planning permission. The planning permission granted by An Bord Pleanála for the M50 upgrade works explicitly forbids heavy construction work during these time periods. This combination of noise related working restrictions, imposed through the planning process means that the type of 24/7 around the clock operation that a number of commentators and political representatives have called for, and which I would welcome, just cannot be done, as it would be unlawful and in breach of planning permission. These restrictions inevitably mean that the project takes longer to construct than many of us would like.
I am confident that with the upgrade complete by 2010, traffic congestion and delays on the M50 will be reduced and road users will be provided with an improved level of service. Road users will begin to see significant benefits next year when the first phases of the motorway upgrade are complete and the barrier-free tolling, which I will describe in more detail shortly, is in place. Another important step in resolving congestion on the M50 was the decision to remove NTR's tolling concession at West-Link. For commercial and strategic reasons, the NRA, with the agreement of Deputy Martin Cullen, my predecessor as Minister for Transport, decided last year to end the arrangement with NTR under a 1987 agreement for the collection of tolls at West Link up to 2020. NTR has to be compensated in line with the 1987 Agreement, which is a binding contract. However, the compensation arrangement will not leave the taxpayers any worse off than they would have been had the agreement been allowed to run until 2020.
By removing NTR now as opposed to 2020, the State, rather than NTR, will be the beneficiary of the increased toll revenue as a result of the increase in traffic volumes from the upgrade and the way will be paved for the smooth transition to the barrier free tolling regime we are all anxious to see. The toll revenue generated from 2008 onwards will be used to fund the compensation to NTR as well as contributing towards the funding of the M50 upgrade project.
The significant ongoing developments and plans for the M50 must be placed in their proper strategic context. That context is, first of all, the national roads programme and at a higher level the Government's blueprint for transport investment over the next decade.
Transport 21 was launched in November 2005. Earlier this year the national development plan reaffirmed the details of Transport 21 and made it clear to all that it was all about putting in place the infrastructure and systems needed to help to continue Ireland's economic success. It is a programme of work that will see a modern, state of the art, sustainable transport network being rolled out and delivered in the years ahead. It will involve transport investment of more than €34 billion over ten years, the most significant infrastructural investment in the history of the Irish State.
Progress in the national roads programme has been excellent in recent years. However, progress in 2006, the first year of Transport 21, was better than excellent — it was truly exceptional. The Government hit the ground running in the implementation of the roads element of Transport 21. Fourteen projects were completed and open to traffic and a dozen more started construction — more than three times the number of starts in the previous year. The total investment in our roads was €1.7 billion, some €90 million ahead of target.
Work is currently in progress on 23 projects covering more than 450 km of roadway. A large number of other projects are at various stages of planning and design. Ireland's national road network continues to be transformed under Transport 21. Not only is the network being transformed, so is the way in which road projects are being delivered. Most projects are now being delivered on time and in budget. This includes 12 of the 14 schemes opened last year. I am glad to report that many schemes are being delivered ahead of time. These include the N8 Rathcormac-Fermoy bypass, delivered eight months ahead of time, the N21 Kinsale Road interchange, opened six months ahead of schedule and the Ml Dundalk western bypass, finished five months ahead of its original date, while the N4 Kilcock-Kinnegad opened ten months ahead of schedule.
The benefits of the record level of investment in the national roads programme are evident throughout the country. Longstanding bottlenecks have been eliminated. This has delivered substantial journey-time savings and greater certainty. The high quality network being put in place is contributing significantly to supporting our national competitiveness, job creation and the achievement of more balanced regional development. It will also deliver a positive road safety dividend as upgraded roads, particularly motorway or dual carriageway standard roads provide a much safer driving environment.
The primary purpose for the introduction of this legislation is the need to provide the necessary statutory basis to facilitate the implementation of free flow open road tolling, also known as barrier-free tolling, on toll-based national road schemes, through the provision of appropriate deterrents for non-payment of tolls. This legislation is necessary to support the introduction of free flow open road tolling at West Link on the M50 by August 2008.
I take this opportunity to outline several facts about how free flow tolling will operate on the M50 from next summer. This, I hope, will help to dispel some of the rumours and half-truths that have sprung up around the issue.
There will only be tolling at one point on the newly upgraded M50, that is, at the West Link bridge. The existing toll plaza will be knocked down and replaced by two gantries whose purpose will be to read electronic pre-paid tags on vehicles and to take a photographic record of those vehicles that do not have those tags in order to invoice the road users for the payment of the toll.
A road user will be able to pay the toll in a variety of ways. The most common and convenient way is likely to be by prepaid electronic tag, which the motorist will attach to the windscreen of his vehicle. As an incentive, registered users will be offered a discount on the standard toll rate. Users can also post-pay, that is, after they have used the toll road. This can be done over the phone by credit or debit card, on-line or at selected retail outlets.
Non-registered users who use the toll road and who do not pay by 8 p.m. the following day — by phone, on-line or in selected retail outlets — will be sent a letter in the post asking them to pay the toll charge. They will have a number of days to pay the toll charge itself and if they fail to do so they will then incur a liability to pay a default toll.
A toll operator will operate this new system on behalf of the NRA. The BetEire consortium has been appointed to this role. All tolling revenues, after costs, including those accruing from the default toll charge will go to the NRA to be reinvested in the national road network. Tolls will be kept at levels similar to what they are today, allowing for inflation.
The electronic tags that will be used on the M50 will work on all other toll roads including the Dublin Port tunnel. Full interoperability between the various tolling tags in use has been introduced in recent weeks.
The system is being designed and operated by some of the leading experts in the world. It will be up and running as fast as is possible, a full 12 months ahead of a comparable project in Vancouver, Canada. Despite this fact, we live in a world where there is an almost incessant demand to have things delivered now. I can appreciate this especially in respect of the M50; people feel quite rightly that they deserve a better service on that motorway. Commuters and road users continue to ask why the road project cannot be completed sooner. This is perfectly understandable but we must get it right. Time is needed to ensure that all involved do get it right. I firmly belief that this project will, by any objective international standard, be delivered in record time.
The NRA has employed some of the foremost experts in the field to advise it on this matter. These people have constructed and operated toll bridges worldwide, from Vancouver to Paris to California. Their considered expert opinion is that the earliest possible date that we can have a successful new system up and running will be August 2008. Time is needed to design and develop the necessary computerised systems and software and also to construct and install the new tolling gantries and associated electronic apparatus. A further period will be needed to install and test all the systems. Furthermore, back office systems need to be put in place and tested rigorously. There will be trial periods to fine tune the operation before it finally goes live. Overall, this will be done in one year less than the Conference of European Directors of Roads recommends as a realistic implementation timetable for such a project.
Sections 1 and 2 of the Bill set out the various definitions that are used therein. Section 3 is a necessary technical amendment and provides that a toll scheme must specify the way in which tolls will be collected and charged.
Section 4 establishes a charge that a motorist will incur for not paying a toll on time; this charge is known as a default toll. The level of the charge will be set by toll by-laws, which will be drawn up by the NRA following public consultation. At this stage it is not possible to say how much the charge will be, as this requires further research and analytical work by the NRA. However, I can say that the practical application of the charge is likely to be quite similar to that associated with the current parking fine system. The motorist will have the chance to pay the charge within a specified period from the date he receives the default toll notice. If he fails to pay within the allotted time, the charge will increase by a multiple of the original charge. If the charge is still unpaid after a further period of time then court proceedings may be initiated for recovery of the toll and related charges as a simple contract debt.
Section 5 gives toll operators access to the national vehicle and driver file to facilitate the collection of tolls and default tolls from users who are outside the electronic payment system. It also imposes certain responsibilities on leasing and hire companies to provide information about cars they have leased or hired out.
Section 6 updates the legislative references to local government bodies in section 13 of the Roads Act 1993 in light of the changes in local government legislation that have taken place since that Act was enacted.
Section 7 relates to the Functions of the National Roads Authority. It amends section 19 of the Roads Act 1993, which specifies detailed functions of the National Roads Authority including preparing or arranging for the preparations of designs, maintenance programmes and schemes for traffic signs, securing the carrying out of works, allocating grants, specifying standards and carrying out or assisting research. The section replaces the existing section 19(1) of the Roads Act 1993. The majority of the provisions are the same as the section it replaces but the main change is that the NRA is now given specific powers to provide service and rest areas on the national road network.
It is important to emphasise that no part of the Bill affects the fundamental way in which the national roads programme is to be delivered, as envisaged in the Roads Act 1993. The excellent work we are seeing and will continue to see in the national roads programme under Transport 21 results from the partnership ethos that has developed over many years between the NRA and the local authorities throughout the country.
Section 8 of the Bill deals with the issue of motorway designation. A central part of the national roads programme and the national development plan is the development, to motorway or high-quality dual carriageway standard, of the five major inter-urban routes linking Dublin to Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and the Border. Excellent progress continues to be made on the development of these routes. More than 70% have been completed or are in construction.
To date, the development of these routes has been largely on the basis of achieving high-quality dual carriageway standard. However, as the national road-building programme has evolved, the specifications, physical design and layout features of high-quality dual carriageways have developed to the stage where high-quality dual carriageways are now essentially the same as motorways. Nevertheless, while there is now little or no physical difference between the two road types, there are major procedural and practical differences between the two. For example, the speed limits, signage and the nature of traffic and classes of vehicles permitted to use the two road types differ. Most significantly, there are major differences between the access and development controls that apply to the two road types. Development beside and access to motorways are far more stringently controlled than in the case of high-quality dual carriageways.
To protect the substantial investment being made in the national road network and to help prevent premature obsolescence of the network it is proposed in the Bill to provide a ministerial power to make orders declaring certain high-quality dual carriageways to be motorways.
The proposed provision allows the Minister for Transport, under certain circumstances and subject to consultation, to declare an existing high quality dual carriageway or a high quality dual carriageway in construction or planning to be a motorway. At present, a road can only legally be a motorway if it has gone through the planning process under a motorway scheme. This section of the Bill will create a straightforward alternative statutory procedure, subject to appropriate checks and balances, for a high quality dual carriageway to be declared a motorway. The provision is time limited in that only existing high quality dual carriageways or those in the statutory planning process on the date of passage of the Act may be declared to be motorways under the provision. This will mean that the currency of this provision will probably end some time next year. In effect, this means that the provision covers in the main all of the major interurban routes which are already almost three quarters complete or in construction and which are due for completion under Transport 21 by 2010.
Before issuing a declaration under this provision, the Minister must arrange for a public consultation process and he or she is also obliged to consider any observations or objections that result from that process. On the advice of the Office of the Attorney General, the proposed public consultation procedure is similar to that currently provided for motorway schemes under section 48 of the Roads Act 1993. There are some concerns about restrictive approaches to development along national secondary roads and non-national roads. I have therefore arranged for my Department, in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to examine the question of further developing the guidance material which has issued to the NRA and local authorities with a view to providing for improved flexibility in the development proposals affecting other lightly trafficked routes.
Sections 9 and 10 of the Bill make a number of amendments to the Roads Act 1993 to facilitate the provision of service and rest areas on the national road network. Ireland's national road network has been transformed almost beyond all recognition over the last decade. A consequence of the substantial development of long lengths of motorways and high quality dual carriageways is that there is an increasing need for facilities to cater for road users who wish to rest during their journeys and/or avail of fuel, sanitary and refreshment facilities.
Mindful of this, my colleague, the former Minister for Transport, asked the NRA to review its policy in this area last year. The NRA subsequently published its policy document on service and rest areas on the national road network in July of last year. To address the growing need for service and rest areas the NRA intends to provide service areas offering a full range of services, including retail services, at intervals of approximately 50 to 60 kms and rest areas, parking and sanitary facilities only, at intervals of approximately 25 to 30 kms. These facilities will be located both on-line and at or close to existing interchanges.
It is worth remembering that the timely development of these areas will make a valued contribution to improving the safety of the road network. This will be true for all road users but particularly so for road hauliers who tend to drive for longer sustained periods than most other road users. The rest areas that will be constructed on the network will also make it easier for them to comply with EU rules on driving times and rest periods.
The NRA has recently concluded an extensive investigation to identify the optimum locations for on-line service and rest areas. The exercise identified locations for up to 12 service areas and 11 rest areas on the major inter-urban routes, M1, M4/N4, N6, M7/N7, N8, N9, as well as the N6/N18 and N11 routes. The Roads Act 1993 does not give the NRA explicit powers to provide these rest and service areas on the existing motorway and dual carriageway networks. The provisions in this Bill address this deficiency and will greatly facilitate the NRA and road authorities in arranging for the provision of service areas on motorways and dual carriageways. The amendments I propose in this Bill will allow the NRA to drive the planning and development of these service and rest areas. Once constructed it is intended the facilities will be operated by way of a PPP arrangement.
Section 11 of the Bill refers to the various amendments to the Roads Act 1993 that are being made in the Schedule to the Bill. I will refer to some of these later.
Section 12 addresses the issue of parking congestion experienced on public roads in the environs of sports stadia and such venues on event days. It amends the Road Traffic Act 1994 to allow local councils to deal with the matter through the making of by-laws together with some consequential and connected amendments.
Section 13 of the Bill introduces a number of amendments to provisions of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. The initiatives proposed reflect on issues raised with the Department by the Commission for Taxi Regulation and are aimed at building on the programmes already being implemented by the commission to promote the development of quality services by all of those engaged in the operation of small public service vehicles.
In that general context, the proposal to amend section 34 of the 2003 Act provides for the introduction of a licensing control regime for dispatch operators who operate a business for taking bookings for taxis, hackneys and limousines. Dispatch operators play a key role in the delivery of services especially to those who cannot avail of on-street services, such as those available from taxi ranks.
Since the passage of the 2003 Act, the commission has pursued a programme of regulatory reform that has seen the realisation of a significant range of changes from the previous code. Against that background, I see no reason to continue with the general requirement for ministerial consent to future regulatory changes that the commission wishes to pursue.
Accordingly, section 13 proposes that the requirement for ministerial consent for the making of certain regulations, or ministerial consultation, in sections 34, 38, 46 and 52 of the 2003 Act be removed. This proposal will greatly enhance the independent status of the commission. However, all orders or regulations made by the commission under the Act will continue to be subject to the requirement to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas after they are made, in accordance with section 3 of the 2003 Act.
In addition to an amendment to facilitate the extension of the fixed charge system to offences under regulations made under section 39 of the 2003 Act, the House will also note this section provides for the extension to hackneys and limousines of the enabling powers available to the commission in respect of taxi fares. This initiative is an enabling provision and does not necessarily herald the adoption of fare controls for hackney and limousine operations in the near future.
Finally, the section proposes that the maximum fines for certain of the offences established under the 2003 Act should be increased. I am promoting this change for the immediate purpose of bringing the maximum fines more into line with the current maximum fines applicable to summary convictions that have been established in legislation since the passage of the 2003 Act.
Section 14 of the Bill is a standard provision regarding the short and collective citation of the Bill.
The Schedule to the Bill contains a number of miscellaneous provisions. Many of these amendments are consequential on new or changed legislation enacted after 1993.
The non-consequential amendments contained in the Schedule to the Act are of a technical nature and their purpose is to make it easier for the NRA to better manage and administer the national roads programme. Many of the others are simple updates of references in the Roads Act 1993 to other legislation that has changed since that Act was passed. Because of their nature I will not dwell too long on any of them but some are worthy of greater explanation.
Section 63 of the Roads Act 1993 allows the NRA to make toll agreements with private investors. Two amendments are being made to this section. The first ensures that toll agreements can prescribe the way in which tolls are to be collected. This will explicitly allow for tolling in a barrier-free environment. The second inserts a new subsection (1A) and allows a road authority to enter into different agreements with different persons on the financing, construction, maintenance and operation of toll roads.
The amendments to section 81 of the Roads Act 1993 put in place a penalty and enforcement regime that better reflects the needs of the 21st century. Penalties are strengthened and updated for various offences throughout the Roads Act. The section also reflects the fact that new offences have been created under this Bill in regard to barrier free tolling. In general, fines have been increased from £1,000 to €5,000
Criminal prosecution is a last resort. Every effort will be made to ensure people have the chance to comply fully with the terms of this Act. The vast majority of people will do this without giving it a second thought. However, it is necessary to have the "stick" of criminal prosecution to make it clear that we are serious about enforcing the terms of this important road legislation.
This legislation is essential if barrier-free tolling is to happen in the near future. Once enacted it should allow systems to be put in place on roads like the M50 that will relieve congestion and improve the quality of life for all road users.
The other provisions of the Bill should allow the NRA and its partners to better administer the national roads programme so the very welcome benefits it has been delivering over the last few years can continue at an even greater pace. The dividends that have been reaped in terms of value for money and road safety can be maintained and enhanced. Finally, the substantial investment we have made and will be making in our national road network over the period of Transport 21 can be protected for future generations of road users.
Deputies will appreciate there is a particular urgency which the Government wishes to see applied to the passage of the Bill, in particular to allow for the process of the introduction of barrier-free tolling to begin with certainty and also to allow the commencement of the process for the procurement of service and rest areas on the national road network.
I apologise to Deputies that copies of my speech were unavailable until I had started. I look forward to the co-operation of Members in facilitating the passage of the Bill and I commend it to the House.
I wish to share time with Deputies Shane McEntee and Paul Kehoe. As this is my first opportunity to speak in the 30th Dáil, I wish to congratulate the Ceann Comhairle and wish him well and also the Minister on his appointment as Minister for Transport. It is not the first time we have opposed one another as we faced each other in the past on environment matters.
I welcome the Bill as it presages and facilitates the removal of the hated barriers on the M50. These barriers have caused such misery to commuters over the years. They are adding to the delays, congestion and heartache caused both by the upgrade works and by the recent opening of the Dublin Port tunnel in tandem with the works. If this Roads Bill helps get rid of these barriers, then I will certainly welcome it and I want to see it become law quickly.
I support and appreciate the necessity of putting legislation in place to ensure that enforcement proceedings against non-payers of the toll are possible and that follow-up procedures are robust. Barrier-free tolling is an honour system and as with any such system, a failure to pay and to behave honourably must be followed by retribution which must be swift, onerous and without exception. If this is not the case and if immediate and inescapable penalties for non-payment are not applied, then the system as a whole is discredited and universal avoidance of the payment is almost inevitable.
Most people would probably prefer not to pay any tolls but the vast majority are law-abiding and will pay what is required by law. However, it should be noted that they will only pay if the law is applied to everyone and enforcement of the law is applied to every defaulter. It is unfortunate that this will not be the case; the toll will not be paid by any foreign-registered car or truck. Many foreign drivers will not pay even when they are driving Irish-registered cars, simply because it will be impossible to find them. I do not believe I am the only person to have heard anecdotal evidence of widespread fraud with regard to foreign licences, foreign insurance and foreign registration and I am sure the Minister hears it as frequently as I do. Unless the law is applied universally and the toll paid by everybody, it will become a cause of significant resentment and ultimately will lead to widespread resistance to payment.
It is grossly unfair that Irish hauliers who are already paying road tax in Ireland will also pay this toll while their European counterparts who pay no road tax will not be required to pay the toll. It is inevitable that this inequity will have a distorting effect on the structure of the industry. In the long term, it is difficult to presume there will be any Irish-registered trucks if payment of tolls can be avoided by hauliers who use toll roads on a regular basis. Tolls make up a considerable part of a haulier's costs and there will be a real incentive to register trucks outside the country.
Non-Irish people make up 10% of the population. Foreign licences are outside the scope of the penalty points system and these licence-holders are not accruing penalty points. This cannot be allowed to continue. For any law to be credible, it must be applied 100% and not 90% or 80%. The Minister's predecessor maintained it was impossible to bring all residents within the system because there was no access to the driver files of other EU countries. I accept that failure to get access to the driver files of other states makes the situation more difficult but it is not insurmountable and if the will was there, it could be done.
Other countries have access to Irish driver files. I refer to Irish residents who fail to pay the London congestion charge and find a bill waiting for them when they return to Ireland. The German roads authority charges every German haulier a fee per kilometre for road usage and this is administered and monitored through a comprehensive camera system. The charge is unerringly accurate and absolutely inescapable. Britain is introducing legislation to ensure total compliance with and enforcement of penalty points and congestion tolls which will be operated by means of the camera system. The British police are to be given powers to collect on-the-spot fines or to confiscate the vehicle. This is what is needed in this jurisdiction and if the Irish licensing and driver file systems are not sufficient, then the Garda Síochána and a camera system must be used.
Significant sums of taxpayers' money are being paid to introduce barrier-free tolling. The cost of the administrative and surveillance system and the annual operating costs will be substantial. However, the system will only apply to approximately 90% of the population and this is not good enough.
The provision of a country-wide camera surveillance system has recently been put to tender. This will be effectively an electronic policing system but its potential is not being maximised as it will only police the offence of speeding. It must be used to at least allow gardaí pursue persistent offenders such as those who persistently fail to pay tolls.
The Minister in his contribution was at pains to emphasise the sophistication of the barrier-free tolling mechanism and the administrative and back-up system. However, it only monitors some of the traffic. This is regrettable when the technology exists to ensure 100% compliance. Fine Gael supports barrier-free tolling and it cannot happen quick enough on the M50, in my view. Fine Gael wishes to facilitate the legislation but we should ensure that it will provide the right solution.
The Minister acknowledged that people would love to see the barriers disappear. People cannot understand the reason the barriers on the M50 are not raised when congestion is at its worst. There is now a contract agreed for the buying-back of the concession from National Toll Roads and this contract will be completed next year. The public cannot understand why occasional relief cannot be given when congestion is at its worst and during the ongoing upgrade works. There have been several instances of appalling congestion on the M50. The smallest thing can throw the entire commuter belt into chaos; a traffic cone falls over and is moved at the inappropriate moment and this causes back-ups which last for hours. It makes sense at times like this to do everything possible to make life a little easier and less miserable for people who have to use the M50.
I do not believe Ministers have any real concept of what it is like to have to commute on the M50 every day, twice a day. Hearing reports on AA Roadwatch is different from having to experience such delays twice a day. The impact is felt beyond the M50 because as a result of the congestion on the M50, the upgrade works and the trucks arriving from the tunnel, the number of vehicles using the M50 has dropped by approximately 15,000. Those vehicles are still making journeys every day but they are now using local roads in the vicinity of the M50 and this is adding to congestion and making life miserable for people living in that commuter belt.
The taxpayer, the motorist and the public at large are all of the view that the toll arrangements on the M50 — which took 20 years to complete — and the WestLink were a rotten deal in every sense and continue to be so. It is time to give the taxpayers and the motorists a break and to show a little sensitivity. The world would not come to an end if the barriers were occasionally raised to clear the worst of the queues. I appreciate the lifting of the barriers will not solve the general congestion problem on the M50 but it would make some difference at some times of the day and would indicate an appreciation of what commuters must endure every day.
The previous Minister introduced this Bill in the Seanad and he stated that from 2008 when barrier-free tolling is to be introduced, the National Roads Authority would be in a position to manage and address congestion difficulties on the M50. He stated that it will allow systems to be put in place on roads such as the M50 to relieve congestion and improve quality of life. I may be a little over-suspicious but I am not sure what this means. The passive, single-point toll which we were promised and which the Minister has referred to in his contribution is not consistent with the language being used here of "active management". I would like to know the exact meaning. Is it merely the ability to vary the toll? If so, what are the parameters of the variation in the toll? Can we be assured that the cost will not be such that local roads will become the relief roads?
Can the single-point toll that the Minister has again promised us this morning be levied at any point along the route? Will it definitely be at a single point? What is meant precisely when the Minister refers to "systems to manage congestion"? What is the act of management to which he refers? Is he happy to hand over powers to vary or manage tolls on the M50 to a body not accountable to the Dáil?
Regarding the other provisions, I fully support the designation of high-quality dual carriageways as motorways. I understand that the thinking behind the proposal is to accord protection against overdevelopment. It is a good idea to protect the public investment in such roads. My only reservation is in respect of the differences in compensation paid for land purchased for dual carriageways and motorways. In the case of the latter, I presume that the development controls and limits are quite clear and that the compensation reflects that. If we designate dual carriageways as motorways retrospectively, might that imply constitutional challenges, given our predilection thereto in this country? I presume that this has been thought about, but perhaps the Minister might set my mind at rest.
I welcome the long-overdue introduction of service areas on motorways, something essential for hauliers in particular. For everyone, especially those travelling with children, it is very important that there be a safe place to pull over. For hauliers making long-distance journeys, it is an absolutely essential road safety measure. The Minister will be aware that the sea journey to Europe renders compliance with EU regulations quite onerous for Irish hauliers. Nevertheless, it is essential that they do so, something possible only if the facilities are there. I understand that the market did not respond to invitations to provide such facilities, and it is right that the NRA do so now. I presume that it will franchise out their operation.
Deputy Shortall and I, over many years, have sought by-laws to deal with parking arrangements on days when major events take place. That measure is also very welcome.
In the few minutes left, I will refer to an issue in the Bill that I have undertaken to raise at every opportunity. There is an ongoing trend on the part of all Ministers to divest themselves of almost all their responsibilities, instead delegating them to unaccountable bodies. This Bill will pass further powers to the NRA and the Commission for Taxi Regulation that formerly lay with the Minister, in which regard he was accountable to the Dáil.
I have the greatest respect for the NRA, which does a great job, and the Commission for Taxi Regulation has also done well since its establishment. This is in no way a criticism of them. However, transferring administrative tasks from a Department to an agency should not absolve the Minister of overall responsibility and the need to be accountable to the Dáil. Ministers have adopted an unnecessary Pontius Pilate attitude to avoid being accountable to the Dáil or even furnishing answers to it on issues to do with policy rather than administration. That trend is not good for our democracy and not in the public interest. When it is accompanied by a further trend to make significant announcements outside the Chamber, our Parliament is left with very little relevance.
The Minister may be aware that, when launching her recent report, the Ombudsman mentioned the 450 single-purpose bodies set up in recent years to fulfil functions formerly covered by the Government. She was obviously complaining that such agencies did not come under the remit of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 or her office. She referred to the very point that I make today, and which the Minister will have heard made by many other Deputies:
Other accountability mechanisms are also lacking in that they are subject to little or no parliamentary oversight and there has been a diminution in Ministerial responsibility and control over functions which formerly were part of the relevant department. The need for legislation to correct this accountability deficit and to allow users of the services of these public bodies to complain to the Ombudsman is long overdue.
In the Department of Transport and the Marine, there are the NRA, the RPA, the DAA, the RSA, the Commission for Taxi Regulation, all the CIE bodies, the Irish Aviation Authority and many more that do not occur to me at present. One wonders what the Department and the Minister do if they are not responsible or accountable for any of those agencies. Specifically, the Minister is not even willing to answer questions on them. I know that in recent years his predecessor, as my colleague will bear out, rejected more parliamentary questions than he answered. That practice has definitely got worse over the course of my time in the Dáil. If there is no accountability at the top, how can we expect civil servants and employees in agencies delivering public services to be accountable and transparent, feeling that the public deserve the best? I hope that, during his tenure at the Department of Transport and the Marine, the current Minister will at least answer questions on issues of policy.
I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his appointment and wish him very well. Having been here for two and a half years, I have found the most important people to be my party leader, the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I wish the last-named person well and hope that his work will not be too fiery. My sentiments are the same regarding the Minister for Transport and the Marine, Deputy Dempsey.
Before I speak, I would like to ask that the debate be adjourned, on the grounds that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, should be present. We have discussed Bills and heard the good news about all the completed roads. I ask that this debate be adjourned.
The Minister should be here, since, even this morning, there is total confusion regarding a main road talked about not only in County Meath or in Ireland, but across the world. It is crucial that he attend to explain exactly what is going on. Does he intend to re-route the road? Someone should let us know whether the Green Party asked the Government to sign this off before it entered office. Has any plan B been drawn up to re-route the motorway around the Hill of Tara? Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, might be able to answer. He could inform me what is going on tomorrow at the Meath GAA golf classic. It is crucial that the Minister attend to let people know what is happening, since it is on the issue of the M3 that this Government might fall — a good deal more quickly than anticipated.
I am obviously not going to prevail upon the Minister to attend. As Fine Gael spokesperson on road safety, I broadly welcome this overdue Roads Bill 2007. I will concentrate on sections 9 and 10, which will facilitate the provision of service areas on the national roads network.
The lack of such service and rest areas has serious implications for road safety. Drivers travelling long distances for commercial or social reasons need rest breaks. Motorways such as the M1 have no facilities for pulling in safely onto the hard shoulder. The case for service and rest areas is overwhelming. They are a common sight on all motorways in the UK and Europe.
It was a serious error of judgment that they were not planned for on Irish motorways. The NRA and the previous Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, belatedly came to their senses and agreed that such facilities should be built on our motorway network. The then Minister for Transport made a commitment that rest areas would be put in place along the new motorways from towns and cities such as Dundalk, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Wexford.
However, the NRA did not have the legal authority to provide service areas via an amendment to the Roads Act. The then Minister for Transport failed to have the necessary amendments to the Act approved by the Dáil before the general election was called. It was intended that the NRA, working with local authorities, should buy suitable sites and secure planning permission. The facilities would then be provided on a "build and operate" basis. However, it appears that little real progress has been made in securing suitable sites and getting construction work started. The previous Minister failed to deliver on this important project. Another tourism season will pass with Irish families and foreign visitors left in limbo on the motorways when they need to fill up with petrol or take a short break in their journey.
Service and rest areas are part of modern, efficient road networks. It is an area in which we lag behind most European countries. I call on the Minister and the NRA to ensure this project is given top priority.
I also welcome the provision in the Bill that there will be consultation with those living close to the new service areas. I know from experience that proper consultation with local residents whenever a project such as this is planned is essential.
An issue which the Minister might take into consideration, which has been brought to my notice by farmers, in particular, and on which my colleague touched is that of land bought from farmers specifically to build a roadway. What will be the case when part of the land is used for industrial or commercial purposes? Will the farmer be able to claim compensation at a later stage on the basis that he sold his land specifically to build a roadway? Perhaps this should be looked into because some farmers in my county have raised it. If we intend to build rest areas, land would have been bought under false pretences. Perhaps the Minister might look into this issue before it ends up in a court in Europe.
I wish the Minister the very best of luck with his new portfolio. There is no doubt that it is a very exciting portfolio of which he can make much. We are always told there are billions of euros to be given out even though the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, whom I do not want to drag into the debate, and I have seen few of those billions in County Wexford over the past number of years.
Like my colleagues, Deputy Shane McEntee and Deputy Olivia Mitchell, our spokesperson on transport, I very much welcome this much needed and sought after Roads Bill. For the past while, Deputy Olivia Mitchell has called for the tolls to be changed. I compliment her on that as have the Labour Party and many other Opposition parties over the past number of years.
Part of the Bill refers to car parking around sports stadia. I hope the city dwellers did not look for this part of the Bill to deal with culchies coming up to Dublin and parking in front of their driveways, on footpaths and elsewhere. I am very proud to be a culchie and when I come up to Croke Park, I park wherever I can find a suitable place but I have often been penalised for doing so.
Tolls on the West Link and on many other motorways are causing a major problem. I cannot understand why it has taken so long for this Bill to come before the House to sort out tolls. On the occasions I use the M50, I am held up for 15, 20 or 30 minutes. I do not know how people use the M50 on a daily basis because it is so frustrating for commuters to see the way the situation is handled. The date of August 2008 is welcome but is much later than what is required. This issue has been spoken about for the past five to six years and I know there were problems with National Toll Roads. It is terrible to see commuters having to queue in the morning and evening for perhaps a half an hour or an hour depending on the traffic.
All Ministers for Transport and the Environment have spoken about Transport 21 to the extent that one would think one just had to go into the Department and ask for a bypass. Enniscorthy bypass has been promised for many years. I am glad to say the Gorey bypass has almost been completed. However, the County Wexford villages of Camolin and Ferns and the town of Enniscorthy will face considerable problems once the Gorey bypass is opened in that traffic in those two villages and in Enniscorthy town will be chaotic. I invite the Minister to come to County Wexford to meet representatives, including the county manager, members of the chambers of commerce, etc., to try to iron out and speed up the process of completing the Enniscorthy bypass as soon as possible because things are proceeding at a snail's pace at present. The New Ross bypass is well ahead of the Enniscorthy one and I ask the Minister to use Transport 21 and his powers in this regard.
As Deputy Mitchell said, it is terrible one cannot get answers from the Minister in regard to the National Roads Authority. When one asks a Minister for Transport a question about the National Roads Authority, one is told the Minister has no responsibility and that one must go directly to the authority. It is not very fair for an elected represented to be given such an answer. Although many promises have been made in the past, I would like Enniscorthy, Ferns and Camolin bypassed as soon as possible.
Sections 9 and 10 refer to service areas. I would like the Department of Transport to work closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the planning departments in the county councils. There will be major problems when planning is sought from the county councils for these service areas which are badly needed. The Wexford group of the Irish Road Haulage Association raised this issue with me when I was out canvassing during the general election. Once the stretch of bypass from Jack White's pub to beyond Gorey is completed, there will be no service station. One will have travel almost to the Sugar Loaf Mountain before one will find a petrol station or a service area at which to stop. That will be a major problem.
We talk about road safety, taking cars off the road and about people getting proper rest. People will not drive two or three miles off a bypass to a service station to take a rest but will continue on as long as they can. That is when some of these serious accidents with lorries and heavy vehicles occur. One sees tachographs and gardaí tackling drivers. In my local newspaper on a weekly basis, one reads about road hauliers being summoned and brought to court because they have not kept to the correct driving hours. Will the Minister speak to the local authorities to get their views on service areas? As Deputy McEntee said, we are lagging way behind our European counterparts in regard to service areas. When one goes to England, one sees these service areas every 70 to 100 km. Restrooms, retail outlets and restaurants are vitally important. I have spoken about service areas for the past while because they are of the utmost importance. Will the Minister look at how our EU counterparts operate in this regard?
I welcome this very broad Bill and would like to see it pass through the House without any major delay. I have no doubt the Minister will not face any delays from this side of the House. We face into the summer recess and I would like the Bill to be brought back to the House as soon as possible when we return in September.
I congratulate the Minister on his recent appointment to the Department of Transport and the Marine and wish him well in that job which is certainly a very onerous one with a wide area of responsibility coming under his remit. I am sure he has noted the fact his two immediate predecessors ran into considerable controversy during their term in office. Each of them had to serve a term in purgatory in the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which I think would be fair to describe it. I am sure the Minister does not intend to go down the same road.
There are lessons to be learned from his two predecessors. However, I wish him well in the job and look forward to interacting with him in the coming months. I would like the Minister to clarify the status of the Bill in his summing up. While I welcome the Bill, it is not clear whether it represents the road traffic legislation the previous Minister, Deputy Cullen, promised would be provided before the end of last year. In the middle of last year, we spent a considerable amount of time debating the Road Traffic Bill 2006 and several issues were raised by the Opposition, as well as by the Minister, which were not addressed in the legislation. During the course of the debate, the then Minister promised a second road traffic Bill before the end of last year. That did not materialise, which leads me to presume that the legislation before us is intended to be that Bill. While it deals principally with open-road tolling and other matters, there are a number of miscellaneous matters but these are not as comprehensive as promised or required. Does the Minister intend to bring forward further road traffic legislation this year?
The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for open-road tolling, which the magnitude of the problem on the M50 demonstrates is desperately needed. The need for open-road tolling on the M50 has been obvious for a number of years. While I welcome the fact that we are making provision for it, we must ask why we have waited until now. It has been known for ten years that the port tunnel would open and spew several thousand additional heavy goods vehicles on to the M50 daily. Conditions on the M50 were becoming increasingly difficult generally, and in particular at the toll bridge, and we knew the problem would be very much exacerbated by the opening of the port tunnel. Anyone with sense knew open-road tolling should be put in place before the tunnel opened, but unfortunately that did not happen. While there is no use crying over spilt milk, the delays and hardship motorists encounter on the M50 would have been avoided if there had been proper planning in the Department of Transport. It is important to make that point.
It is unfortunate that the Government made an agreement with NTR that open-road tolling may only be implemented from 2008. While I welcome the fact that the contract has been bought out by the Government, early control of the West Link bridge should have been achieved in the negotiations. From the opening date of the port tunnel to the time when open-road tolling is put in place, in August 2008 at best, traffic congestion will not have been properly managed as required. The NRA, Dublin City Council or an agency of the Department of Transport could have managed traffic congestion better by varying toll rates to encourage vehicles, especially trucks, to use the West Link during off-peak periods very early in the morning or late at night. The failure to secure flexibility through early public control of the West Link in the negotiations with NTR was a missed opportunity. I do not know why an earlier date could not be secured. Ordinary commuters are paying the price for the Government's failure to move sooner.
I am interested to learn from the Minister what measures are in place to ensure that tolls are not flouted by non-national drivers. Will Northern registered drivers be able to avoid paying tolls for substantial periods? In the context of speed cameras, it is common on the M1 to see Northern registered cars ignore the speed limits when they cross the Border to the South. The same is true for southern drivers who go North. Nothing can happen to these drivers if they break the speed limit as there is no mechanism in place to enforce the law on either side of the Border in respect of drivers from the other jurisdiction. We were promised by the Minister's predecessor on a number of occasions that this matter would be taken up in the Council of Ministers and with the North-South body, but nothing has happened. This will be a frequent problem and a source of great annoyance among drivers in the South who will be obliged, rightly, to pay tolls or will be subject to the enforcement mechanisms to deal with those who seek to avoid payment.
Non-national drivers, especially Northern drivers who are very welcome as they come here in increasing numbers, should pay their fair share. If they do not, there will be significant public annoyance as southern taxpayers subsidise toll charges for northerners and other non-nationally registered vehicles. Has agreement been secured to provide the authorities with national driver files in other European member states and with Stormont to ensure mutual observation of rules? Fines and penalties are regularly flouted by drivers from other jurisdictions, but the Bill is silent on the issue and the Minister appears to have no proposals to deal with it. It will become a growing problem and a source of great annoyance to taxpayers.
Will a mechanism be put in place to deal with repeat offenders for non-payment of tolls? In Holland, a system exists whereby fines and penalties can be applied if a driver is later stopped for other offences or checks, but I am not aware of such a system here. It is a system we should consider. While I appreciate fully the need for strict enforcement, however, is it appropriate that drivers should face fines of up to €5,000 and-or a term of imprisonment of up to six months for failure to pay a toll charge? While I believe in strict enforcement, six months' imprisonment is somewhat over the top given the nature of the offence.
Significantly, the Bill lacks provision to regulate number plate providers, which failure may render the legislation in general useless. I raised the matter during the debate on the Road Traffic Bill last year when the UK Government saw fit to extend regulation to this area. Certain disreputable operators provide false number plates, meddle with existing ones or switch them between vehicles, but there is no regulation of such activity. This behaviour will increasingly become a problem in the context of open-road tolling and should be attended to by the Minister.
A question also arises of the need to provide authority to the Minister, the NRA or some other road authority to implement group incentive and discount schemes for certain categories of vehicles or times of the day. I wish to know what will be the proposed locations for the use of tolls. I am not happy that responsibility for yet more toll by-laws will be devolved to the National Roads Authority, a body largely unaccountable to the public and public representatives. While in theory its representatives can be called before an Oireachtas committee, the reality is that at most they will come before the Joint Committee on Transport once a year. There is no effective ongoing accountability. All legislative functions should be performed by the Minister until there is proper public accountability for such organisations.
I share the concern expressed by Deputy Olivia Mitchell that recent years have seen a definite trend on the part of Governments to offload responsibility for the democratic accountability of public bodies. Increasingly, we see this responsibility shifted through legislation from the Minister to the State agency concerned and it is extremely difficult to demand or ensure ongoing accountability. I would like to see this trend reversed or at least halted. The impact and powers of this House are reduced if it is not possible to obtain answers from State agencies on a regular basis.
To some extent the Minister covered the practical operation of an open-road tolling scheme. Will he arrange for a briefing document to be provided for Opposition spokespersons and the Joint Committee on Transport? A great amount of detail must be examined more carefully. Given the experience and difficulties we encountered with speed cameras and the low level of enforcement against transgressions picked up by speed cameras, I am concerned about the robust nature of the scheme proposed.
We all spoke about the need to establish an open-road tolling scheme as quickly as possible. However, it must also be done properly. My main criticism is that nobody started to work on the project until quite late in the day. We should have prepared for this five, six or seven years ago once work on the Dublin Port tunnel was under way. The Minister has stated it is expected to be in place by August next year, sooner than recommended. I do not complain about the fact that it is coming. However, a balance must be struck between speed and ensuring the system is robust and will operate satisfactorily.
I must express concern about a point made by the Minister. With regard to the trial period, he stated, "Overall this will be done in one year less than the Conference of European Directors of Roads recommends as a realistic implementation timetable for such a project." The Conference of European Directors of Roads is an important body which establishes time limits in respect of what is achievable on a realistic basis. It states open-road tolling cannot be introduced within the period in which we will do so.
I hope this measure will not be rushed. The timescale from the early days of examining various systems, seeking tenders and designing the spec to operation is extremely short and a year shorter than that recommended. There is a reason the Conference of European Directors of Roads recommended a certain period. I hope we will not cut corners which will end up costing us dearly. It is not necessarily a boast to be able to state what the Minister did. For this reason I would welcome clarification on the practical implementation of the scheme and ask for a briefing paper to be made available on its details.
I have experience of the Eazy Pass scheme but not of any of the other similar schemes. I presume they all operate on the same basis. The Minister stated, "As an incentive registered users will be offered a discount on the standard toll rate." This seems sensible and should happen. One wonders why Eazy Pass does not offer an incentive scheme. We could have streamlined the operation of the West Link before now by having more people use Eazy Pass. Of course, there is no incentive for them to use it because there is no discount on toll costs. Will the Minister spell out what is proposed with regard to discounts?
What are the Minister's views on how Eazy Pass operates? It is unnecessarily restrictive. To establish an Eazy Pass account one must lodge a sum of €80. As the toll bridge is used the account balance is reduced. Once it has decreased to €20 the account is automatically topped up to €80. This figure is excessive. Many are not in a position to make such a commitment and keep topping up the account to the level of €80. It is not necessary when one considers how people top up mobile phones. One can top up by €10 and perhaps €5. Why must one top up to €80? It is a disincentive. We face a situation from the middle of next year where the vast majority of drivers will need a tag on their windows and we should seek to make it easier for them to do so. I do not see why one cannot top up to €10.
I will now discuss the issue of the use of PPPs. This is an issue I raised frequently with the Minister's predecessor and I will raise it with the Minister again in due course. Everybody discusses the great success of the PPP system of procurement for motorways and there was great success in recent years in bringing in motorway projects on time and under budget. However, there is not sufficient scrutiny of budgets. Everybody is delighted to see a road project completed sooner than expected and under budget. However, the budget is not adequately scrutinised in the first place and there is little transparency with regard to the costs involved.
All motorway projects are costed in tens of millions of euro. The programme is costed in billions of euro. Any slippage in respect of value for money means huge expense for the taxpayer. Often in the rush to welcome the opening of a new motorway, particularly if it is on time or under budget, the fact that we are not clear on whether the taxpayer received value for money is masked. All one can do is examine the price quoted by the private consortium for the PPP and compare it with the cost of procuring a motorway in the conventional manner.
I do not know how many comparative studies have been done of the cost per kilometre of procuring a motorway under the two options. I have seen few but often this is the figure which is compared. Perhaps the PPP price looks better. However, the payment of tolls for 30 years is not factored in to the original cost of the contract and while it might look like a good price initially, we should factor in the tolls to be paid by the public. It is a substantial cost to the taxpayer and must be included in the cost of the relevant section of motorway. I would like to see further study on that because it will be some time before people are able to make up their minds on whether we are getting value for money. If I continue to be a member of the Joint Committee on Transport, that is an issue to which I would like the committee to apply some of its time in the coming year. I appreciate a certain amount of work has been done by the Comptroller and Auditor General from the point of view of accountability in respect of keeping to the original budget but the comparative figures have not been adequately considered and I would like to see that done.
On motorway design, section 8 allows the Minister to change the status of dual carriageways to motorways. That is sensible if applied with due diligence. Missing from the Bill is a further improvement in standards for motorways and dual carriageways. For example, one of the candidates for designation as a motorway will surely be the N2 to Ashbourne, which already has a speed limit of 120 km/h. However, much of that road is unlit. I was surprised to receive a reply to a parliamentary question some months ago informing me there are no regulations governing the lighting of carriageways where a 120 km/h speed limit applies. That is nonsensical and needs early attention. While it seems sensible to designate the N2, which is a dual carriageway, where one can drive up to 120 km/h, it has implications for learner drivers. This is a huge issue and is one of the failures of the Minister's predecessors in that they have not tackled the issue of the long waiting lists for driving tests given that there are more than 400,000 learner drivers on our roads.
This means that learner drivers will be able to drive at 120 km/h on dual carriageways. They are not allowed to drive on the motorway but if they drive on a dual carriageway where there is an increased speed limit they can drive at 120 km/h. Much of the M50 has a speed limit of 100 km/h. I am not sure if the public is generally aware that when the upgrade works are completed the speed limit for the entire M50 will be reduced to 100 km/h. The rule applying to learner drivers is that they cannot drive on motorways but they can drive on dual carriageways. In effect, that means a learner driver is allowed to drive at 120 km/h on a dual carriage but not on a motorway where the speed limit is 100 km/h. It has implications and I am not sure if that aspect of the change in the speed limit has been thought out. Given the large number of learner drivers it is not right that a person who has never sat a driving test, or has sat a driving test and failed, is allowed, under our law, to drive on a road at 120 km/h. That is a serious mistake.
Section 10 provides for the National Roads Authority to make provision for service areas, which is long overdue. One has to ask why such areas are only being provided now given that we are several years into the motorway programme. It is patently clear that what is needed on motorways is an adequate number of service areas. It is not clear whether the service areas will include lay-bys and rest areas for motorists, particularly drivers of heavy goods vehicles. A serious problem with road safety is that a considerable number of truck drivers drive in excess of the time period allowed. The difficulty on our motorway system is that there are no rest areas for them at present. Therefore, there is always the temptation to go that extra 100 km to get to the next town to take the break when they feel tired. Given that such a facility is not available, it is remiss of the Department and previous Ministers not to have provided for it sooner.
The parking provisions deal only with the Croke Park type issue. While this is a valid issue in terms of sports stadia there is a need for greater flexibility to be given to local authorities to deal with the increasing parking problems in our cities and major towns. Under the law, it is not possible for a local authority to designate streets for "residents only" parking. That should be possible. My colleague, Deputy Stagg, raised this matter with the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, on a number of occasions and he gave an undertaking to deal with it, but unfortunately he has not done so and is tackling only the single problem around sports stadia. I appeal to the Minister to allow that type of flexibility.
For example, people park their cars outside neighbourhood shops in the morning and board a bus into town to get to work. This is a common feature of which many backbenchers will be aware, particularly in the Dublin area. That means all the parking spaces on a particular road or in front of shops are occupied for the entire day so that there is no casual parking available. The Minister needs to give flexibility to local authorities to allow them to designate certain areas for residents or one-hour parking, or whatever suits the particular circumstances in the local area. Local authorities are best placed to decide what suits a local area. I ask the Minister to consider allowing that flexibility to local authorities because it is an increasing problem in many areas. I see no reason he cannot do that.
Other anomalies need to be addressed arising from the definition of a public road. In recent months several anomalies have come to my attention in respect of estates that are not yet taken in charge by local authorities. We all know how long the taking-in-charge process can drag on. I was surprised to discover that the full rules of the road do not apply on roads which are not yet taken in charge by a local authority. This is incredible and it is causing huge difficulties. For example, if an estate has not been taken in charge, the Garda cannot enforce the law in respect of speeding. This is a very serious problem in housing estates. If a developer puts down double yellow lines during the course of the building of the estate the Garda cannot enforce those double yellow lines because the estate has not been taken in charge and is not a public road. Similarly, the standard urban speed limit of 50 km/h cannot be applied to a road that has not yet been taken in charge. We must have a law that addresses these anomalies and offers the same level of protection on these roads to all users, irrespective of whether the estates are in public or private charge. I will table amendments on this issue on Committee Stage.
I have raised the matter of footpaths by way of parliamentary question and I will table amendments on Committee Stage. For example, there are public footpaths, public rights of way, which are privately owned and there is no provision for the local authority to tackle that issue.
There are two other issues that could have been dealt with in this Bill, such as the blood-alcohol limit, which was promised, particularly for learner drivers. There is no provision for the regulation of tinted windows despite the fact that they make the enforcement of the law impossible in respect of the use of mobile phones. Given that that should have been done, I will table an amendment on Committee Stage. There is no provision to change the default speed limit on national roads. The Minister will discover very soon within the Department the urgent need to consolidate road traffic legislation because the Garda and everyone else finds it extremely difficult to tackle it.
I wish the Minister well with the Bill and I look forward to tabling many amendments on it.
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle agus comhghairdeachas a dhéanamh leis. Go n-éirí leis ina phost nua. I congratulate you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on your elevation and wish you every success in the post. I assure you of my co-operation.
I wish to share time with Deputy Christy O'Sullivan. I welcome the Roads Bill. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and all his predecessors on the huge progress we have made in the delivery of roads across the country in the past ten years. The roll-out of these new roads continues apace and the Minister referred to the fantastic Transport 21 programme to be completed over the next ten years. This has significantly cut journey times for motorists and has improved safety. In my constituency of Dublin North the delivery of the M1 and N2 — hopefully we will see the M3 after the Bill is passed — has transformed travel times and greatly boosted the economy in the constituency and outside it.
It is appropriate to mention that yesterday the 1 millionth truck travelled through the Dublin Port tunnel. I travelled through the tunnel yesterday and today. The time saved in getting into the city is fantastic. Much more needs to be done on our delivery of roads. The upgrading of dual carriageways to motorway standard as proposed in the Bill is long overdue. I have had many complaints from constituents over the years asking why they are restricted to travelling at 80 km/h on what people recognise as a motorway quality road when 100 km/h or 120 km/h would be more appropriate. This aspect of the Bill will be greatly welcomed. While none of us would advocate speeding, motorways are built to accommodate speeds of up to 120 km/h. Upgrading certain dual carriageways will be welcome across the country and will cut journey times for ordinary commuters and business people.
I very much welcome the provision of the service areas. In my former position as councillor, along with other public representatives I attempted to make provision for service areas on motorways. At the time the NRA wrote to the county manager blocking the proposal. I am glad these service areas will soon be available. We have all had the experience of travelling around the country and being unable to stop for a meal, refuel, use toilets etc. Young families in particular will welcome this change. Heavy goods vehicle operators will certainly welcome it. Drivers often need to pull into small towns and villages to take meals, refuel etc. The clogging of small village roads with HGVs has caused considerable problems for local residents. This is a very positive step.
I wish the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, every success in his post. I have no doubt he will be an outstanding Minister. He has shown great courage in all his other portfolios and I have full confidence that he will deliver Transport 21 in a time-efficient manner.
Discussions should take place with the Road Haulage Association and other organisations to agree the location of these service areas, as they are the experts. When undertaking a journey to Galway, Cork, Sligo or wherever their drivers know where it is appropriate to stop. With the advent of tachographs they would be more than familiar with the exact locations.
Everybody will welcome the provision of barrier-free tolling on the M50. Nobody using the M50 is happy with the delays at the toll plaza. As one who uses Eazy Pass, I recognise that the system works particularly well. I do not believe the difficulties Deputy Shortall envisages would arise on a practical level. The system works extremely well and the vast majority of people would be more than happy to pay by direct debit rather than needing to stop and throw in a cup of coins. Upgrading the M50 to six lanes is more than welcome and coupled with barrier-free tolling will make driving along the M50 more convenient. Following the opening of the port tunnel, business people in particular will find that journey times and costs will be greatly improved.
Like other Deputies, I will be parochial. As the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, comes from Meath he will be aware of the need for an outer ring road north of Balbriggan, perhaps between Balbriggan and Drogheda as outlined in the Government proposals. I recommend that the planning for this project should proceed apace. We need to keep as much traffic as possible out of the Dublin region. There is no reason traffic coming from the north and going to the south or west should need to use the existing junction with the M1 to access the M50.
Given the proposed new port at Bremore, a new link road from the M1 to that port will be essential. As the Minister will know, Balbriggan is a now major residential area and a separate link road is necessary. The concept of HGVs passing through local residential areas is not appropriate. We need to plan to have six lanes on the M1 now, with the advent of the North-South corridor and the increased North-South business, and given the development of our economy. This will be particularly appropriate if Bremore port comes about as proposed. I understand that even Guinness is considering moving from the city out to Balbriggan. All those proposals suggest we should have six lanes on the M1.
Good access to any motorway is essential. The NRA should co-operate with Fingal County Council in planning new access in the Lusk-Blake's Cross area to facilitate motorists from Skerries, Rush and Lusk to access the motorway rather than needing to travel to the existing Lissenhall interchange which already has considerable congestion with motorists from Donabate and Portrane joining the motorway. A slip road from Donabate and Portrane to the M1 is also needed.
The public demands that the M50 be freed up as quickly as possible. It is incumbent on everybody in this House to allow a speedy passage of the Bill so we can get barrier-free tolling on the M50.
I refer to the parking regulations outside sport stadia. I am a regular visitor to Croke Park. I will be there next Sunday and I wish Wexford the best of luck. The Minister is also a regular spectator and I often see him there. I hope I will have the opportunity to go to Croke Park a few times this year, particularly on the third Sunday in September. However, indiscriminate parking is an issue around the stadium. Spectators need parking so that they can attend and enjoy a match but a number of them block gateways and so on. This involves supporters not only of Dublin but also Meath, Wexford and other counties playing in Croke Park. This issue needs to be addressed but the Bill should be passed forthwith.
I also congratulate Deputy Noel Dempsey on his new portfolio and my fellow Corkman, Deputy Billy Kelleher, on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Transport and the Marine. I look forward to working with them closely on transport infrastructure in my constituency.
Our roads infrastructure needs improvement. My constituency does not even have 1 km of national primary road. A national secondary road runs through Cork South West but it is only at the standard of a county road. While I welcome the programme in place to expand dual carriageways and motorways, which are necessary, my main concern is that my constituents do not have the opportunity to travel on 1 km of national primary road in south west Cork. The public transport infrastructure in my constituency is such that we cannot attract industry and that is a major concern. I hope this issue will be addressed in the near future. The Minister made only one reference in his contribution to this issue but I would like him to take it seriously and address it in the near future.
I wish to share time with Deputy Deenihan.
I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his appointment. I wish him well and I hope he will have a clear view of our opportunities to contribute and so on. I also congratulate Deputy Billy Kelleher on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Transport and the Marine.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. As the Minister stated, the Bill primarily deals with the congestion on the M50 and the national primary roads infrastructure. While I welcome the effort to free up the traffic flow on the M50, it is unreal that the problem has been allowed to continue for as long as it has. In recent times, I have had the advantage of using the M1 to travel between County Monaghan and Dublin. The Eazy Pass system allows motorists to travel more quickly along motorways but one must stop at the toll booth on the M50 because the traffic is so heavy. In this day and age, I do not know why better use has not been made of technology on the busiest thoroughfare in the State. Six or seven Eazy Pass lanes should be provided at the West Link while the M50 upgrade is under way and it is impossible to understand why that has not been done when one considers the massive profits NTR has made and is guaranteed to make until the State takes over responsibility for the bridge. Simple initiatives could be taken to make life a little easier for people; it is impossible to know who is in charge at any given time.
The management of public transport is fragmented. When one travels between Donegal, Derry or Monaghan on the M1 to Dublin, one can travel at 70 mph on the motorway but the minute one hits the city, one must sit in traffic. On one occasion, which the Taoiseach attributed to a broken down lorry, I sat in my car for one hour and five minutes on the M1 without moving because of the gridlock. It does not take a genius to create park and ride facilities and provide buses to take people into the city centre.
None of us likes the system of tolls and it is a major problem for industry. This issue must be examined carefully. The new system will provide that foreign registered lorries do not have to pay tolls, yet Irish lorry drivers will. I would like the Minister of State to clarify whether that is the case because the haulage industry is enormously handicapped as it is without facing further competitiveness problems. Hauliers and other motorists who must pass through a number of tolls on a daily or weekly basis face a significant cost.
I refer to the extension of the M1 through County Monaghan to Derry. I welcome the recent decision by the Taoiseach and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to provide moneys to upgrade the road between Dublin and Derry. However, I beg the Minister to ensure that decision is not allowed to delay the upgrade of the road. It is proposed that a dual carriageway will be built between Derry and the Moy Bridge in County Monaghan while it was originally proposed that the single carriageway between Moy Bridge and Monaghan town would be upgraded. Meanwhile, a three-lane motorway will be built between Clontibret and Castleblayney and I am not sure whether that will be extended. However, this will lead to complications. The M1 runs between Dublin and Ardee, County Louth. One then travels on a single carriageway between Ardee and Castleblayney, County Monaghan. We then have a three-lane road from Castleblayney to Clontibret and a single-lane road from Clontibret by Monaghan town to the Border. There is a dual carriageway again from that point to Derry. This should be looked at carefully. We do not want this to be given as an excuse to hold up the entire system or allow the NRA to state it cannot continue with the Monaghan-Emyvale stretch until there is progress on what is happening in Northern Ireland. It must be remembered, to echo what the new Deputy from Cork South-West said, that one of the main areas with no rail service is Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal. This roadway is significantly important for tourism, industry and the general public. We do not want to allow what has been a very progressive and worthwhile agreement in Northern Ireland to slow this issue or bring it to a halt. It is vital that there be quick thinking and action on it.
In his speech, the Minister mentioned provision of service and rest areas on the national road network. Nobody welcomes that statement more than I. I have tried for years to get information in this House on the policy for that issue. It is unbelievable that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government insists that hauliers and others have special times in which they must stop and rest. If these people do not show they have complied by means of a tachograph, they are liable to heavy fines. However, we do not provide any service area for them, and when we ask the relevant Minister about service areas, we are told the Department is not responsible. We are told by the NRA it is not responsible either.
At least with this Bill it looks as if there is some move in the direction of solving this issue. I put down a question to the Minister for Transport and the Marine for today and I cannot find it anywhere. It is not on the list and the only place it is, proving that it was sent, is on my computer. The question was:
To ask the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he has any plans to insist that park and rest areas are provided by the NRA or county councils in light of the fact that hauliers must adhere to the law and rest at regular intervals; if he can advise how many such rest areas are already in place along the national primary and secondary routes in Ireland at the present time, and if he will make a statement on the matter.
It is unbelievable that one can ask a question like that in this House and not get an answer. There is not even an explanation as to why the question is not on the list of questions. I had another refusal on a question put down for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government but that is not surprising. I would urge that there be no hold-up in the provision of an upgraded road between Dublin and Derry. It is part of the cross-Border agreement and it should be one of the issues prioritised by this Government and the NRA. I look forward to it.
I join the previous speakers in congratulating the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his election to such a very important post in this House and I am sure he will be very fair to all of us, particularly on this side of the House.I congratulate Deputy Billy Kelleher, one of the nice people in this House over the years. His elevation is deserved. I also recognise the change of Office in the case of Deputy Noel Dempsey.
As the Minister pointed out, the principal purpose of this Bill is to provide the necessary statutory basis to facilitate the implementation of free-flow, open-road tolling, also known as barrier-free tolling on toll-based national road schemes. It also provides for appropriate deterrents for non-payment of tolls. Deputy Olivia Mitchell has been particularly strong on this issue for some time and I recognise her work and that the Government must have been influenced in its policy by her insistence over the years, and Deputy Roisín Shortall's, that this was the way forward.
I welcome the Bill. I am in favour of tolls. Those who use a facility such as a motorway must contribute towards it. There are problems and I have heard some aired in my clinic regarding people not living in this country and who may be from Northern Ireland or the UK, for example, using such roads on a very regular basis. I am sure such issues will be dealt with by the Minister.
Our road system is very important from a tourism perspective. People would appreciate the type of tourist that kept tourism in the west of Ireland and other rural parts of the country going, was the tourist who brought his or her own car. That type of tourism is on the decline and it is very important for us to encourage people to bring their cars to Ireland and show them we have a high standard of road network and that the roads are safe. This has not been the case, as we all know, but the situation is improving.
People stopped bringing their cars to Ireland because they went to Europe instead, and although there were other reasons, it was principally because of the inferior condition of the road network and a lack of signage. The issue was not mentioned in the Minister's speech but we must review signage, particularly signage for leaving this capital city and negotiating around it. It must be a nightmare for tourists coming off the car ferry and then trying to leave the city, be it north, south or west. I raised this issue some years ago and although there were promises of progress, unfortunately none has been made.
I refer to two sections of the Bill as I know my time is limited. As one who drives on a regular basis between Kerry and Dublin, I have experience of the new motorway and dual carriageway sections of road in the country. Service areas are not included in the planning for major road improvements. Service areas should be built into motorways and should be included in processing the plans. They have not been up to now.
A person leaving Dublin could have to travel beyond Portlaoise before coming to a service station. For the local, the tourist and visitor alike, a sudden realisation that petrol or other supplies are required and a service station is not in sight can be quite alarming. It is a matter of major concern for people. The provision of service stations at intervals should be built into road planning. Several companies provide service stations. I am sure the NRA could enter into contractual arrangements at an attractive profit. It could assign service stations to a particular company in some cases. The provision of proper service stations should be included in road plans so people can avail of services, rest and other facilities, such as toilets. I welcome this provision and it is important that it is included in road plans for the future.
The issue of major sporting events in respect of which by-laws could be introduced was mentioned. I welcome that suggestion. It applies not only to events in Dublin but to those in other parts of the country, be it Limerick, Cork, Killarney, Tralee or wherever. Order needs to prevail at such major events. Where parking is prohibited and restricted, the promoters of the events should put in place alternative arrangements, otherwise people will have to walk for miles to attend, or will be discouraged from attending, sporting events. We have all witnessed haphazard parking at sporting events where cars have been abandoned. If people cannot park their cars in designated areas, if parking facilities are not provided and if such laws are not put in place and strictly enforced, certain venues will not be able to stage events. Therefore, the provision of parking facilities is a major consideration.
I draw that matter to the attention of the officials and suggest that the by-laws should provide that motorists cannot park in certain places but that the promoter of an event should ensure proper parking facilities are made available for it and show the location of such parking provision.
In regard to the national primary road network, Transport 21, which was launched on 1 November 2005, outlined the specific national roads that would be completed over a period of time. I acknowledge that major progress is being made and that is welcome to motorists. The length of time it takes to travel to Dublin has decreased and that must be welcomed.
To return to local issues, major issues exist in Kerry concerning the national primary and secondary road infrastructure. I would like the Minister, through his officials, to respond to one issue in particular. The Minister's predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Cullen, came to Castleisland in County Kerry during the week the general election was called and declared that the proposed bypass at Castleisland would go ahead at the end of 2008 and that a financial directive would be sent to the NRA to enable it to do that, to enable it to frontload the money for it. Will the Minister confirm today if such a financial directive was sent to the NRA by the Government to enable it to frontload the money to commence work on that project at the end of 2008 as promised? It is important that is clarified.
Another issue is the bypassing of Tralee in County Kerry. Tralee is currently choked with traffic. It is easier to get around Dublin at times than it is to get around Tralee. People are frustrated about that. The provision of a bypass around Tralee must be prioritised from a local and tourist point of view. Castleisland and Tralee are the gateways to County Kerry.
The N69 is mentioned in a press release. Flexibility must be exercised in regard to certain requirements for major new industrial enterprises. A major enterprise is under way in Tarbert, County Kerry, namely, the liquefied natural gas, LNG, project at the Tarbert-Ballylongford landbank. The N69 certainly needs to be upgraded to facilitate this project. The officials may be aware of that.
Yes. I also congratulate the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, who has a new brief. I hope he will have a successful period in it. If he has, it will benefit the country. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher. The last time I saw him before I was elected to this House he was singing his socks off on television.
I wish him the best of luck in his brief.
There is not a person in the country who would disagree with barrier-free tolling. The only criticism of it is that it did not happen many years ago, especially on the M50. The problem experienced on the M50 will be mirrored throughout the country because of the increasing number of cars being purchased. Every household used to have one car and now households have multiple cars. Barrier-free tolling throughout the length and breadth of Ireland would be beneficial.
However, one criticism I have of it is that the NRA will determine the default toll. I question the reason we continually devolve the authority of Departments to other agencies. We have seen this practice perhaps at its worst with the HSE and the Department of Health and Children. An earlier speaker asked why should we have a Department when it gives its authority to other agencies. I draw a comparison between that and the Government last year effectively regularising parking fines throughout the country by bringing the fine up to €40 throughout the State. The NRA will determine the default toll, but why is this House, which is the correct forum to make these decisions, devolving such authorities to other agencies?
In regard to motorway designations, this Bill will effectively reduce, if not negate, the difference between a motorway and a dual carriage. That has implications because of the planning process for motorways and dual carriageways. Everybody would welcome the speeding up of the planning process for these major arterial routes, which are the lifeblood of the country. However, the NRA has spent a great deal of time on route selections and route designs. Then the contracts are awarded and the tender is awarded to the successful individual who in turn designs and builds the same route that the NRA has spent time planning. This appears to be a silly duplication of resources. Nevertheless, anything that will speed up the building of motorways must be welcomed.
The section of the N11 between Rathnew and Arklow is a single carriageway that is the most dangerous route in this State. People have been killed on it year in year out. Work on it should be given priority — I go so far as to say it should be given priority over projects on major inter-urban routes. Members might question the reason a Deputy from Wexford is championing a route in Wicklow. I am realistic enough to understand that it is unlikely that the Government will leave work on that section of the N11 prior to commencing projects in Wexford and proceeding with the Camolin, Ferns and Enniscorthy bypasses. Those areas of the county must be developed because without them trade, people's quality of life and many other areas suffer.
The provision of motorway service areas is absolutely essential. People have touched on this issue. I assume the NRA will undertake a part 8 planning process if it acquires land. As many Members from a local authority background will know, a part 8 planning process guarantees planning permission. People are not allowed to object to it and although they can make a submission it tends not to get much of a hearing.
A part 8 planning process will most likely cover the design and build of a project by the successful tenderer with whom the NRA has struck a deal or entered a contract. If the NRA plans to provide a motorway service area on a route, the people who have had their properties dissected by the provision of that route should be informed of the planned motorway service area. I am sure the Minister will state advertisements will be placed in the newspapers in this regard. However, these will not be sufficient. The NRA knows who owns land on either side of that which it has purchased and should send letters to the people concerned — in the context of openness and transparency — in order to ensure they will be in a position to express their interest in proposed projects and also to ensure their land will be taken into consideration. In effect, what will happen as a result of that to which I refer is that the designation of agricultural land will be changed to commercial land. That will be a major development. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding planning rezonings in urban areas. On foot of what I have outlined, agricultural land will effectively be rezoned as commercial land. The process must be open and transparent to those who wish to take advantage of the possibilities. It goes without saying a site must be deemed suitable before development proceeds.
I am disappointed that certain facets of the Bill do not take other matters into consideration. Local authorities are trying to fund new roads in urban areas from development levies. We need to consider putting in place a package that will give local authorities in major expanding towns the opportunity to proceed with the building of such roads.
In their absence, I congratulate the Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle and wish them well in their important job of upholding the dignity of the House. As I know from another sphere of activity in which I am involved, the referee is never the most popular person on the field, particularly when he gives a red card in the first minute. I do not doubt, however, that the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle have the ability and political experience necessary to allow them to do an excellent job. I also congratulate the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and the Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher, on their new roles.
As this is my first time to speak in the House, I am honoured to have the privilege to represent the people of County Mayo. To those who supported me in my campaign and voted for me, I offer my sincere thanks. It is my firm intention to work on behalf of and represent the interests of all of the people of County Mayo, both in the House and on whatever committee of which I become a member.
I welcome the decision to introduce barrier-free tolling on motorways. This decision should make an enormous difference to the M50 which has been described as the biggest car park in Europe in easing traffic congestion and facilitating smooth traffic flow. The new system to be introduced in 2008 will include a default toll penalty for motorists who fail to pay. However, I foresee considerable logistical and technical difficulties in enabling the huge number of drivers who use the M50 to come to terms with the new system. Will the Minister indicate in detail how the new system will operate successfully, particularly in the context of foreign registered cars, etc?
The Bill contains the word "motorway", a term that has no relevance to the county I represent or the west as a whole. There is not a single motorway in the west and many of the so-called national roads in the region are scarcely worthy of the name. I travel to Dublin on the N5 national primary road which links Westport, Castlebar, Ballina, Swinford and Charlestown to Dublin. There are long stretches of this road which can only be described as a tortuous series of bends and accident black spots, where safe overtaking is impossible and only minor incremental improvements have taken place during the years. The position as regards the N26, the N60, the N59 and parts of the N17 is similar. These roads are narrow and completely substandard, with no fencing on some stretches.
The explanatory memorandum to the Bill refers to the proposal in Transport 21 to construct high quality dual carriageways from Dublin to Limerick, Waterford and the Border. There will be only one such dual carriageway to the west, namely, that to Galway city. Nobody begrudges the upgrading of the road network to these locations. However, one must ask why other counties, particularly Mayo, have been omitted. The roads in County Mayo also need to be upgraded as a matter of urgency. Phase 2 of the N26 needs to proceed immediately. There is a need to carry out works on the roads from Castlebar to Westport and Ballinrobe. Bypasses are required at Kiltimagh, Ballyhaunis and Ballinrobe.
The economic reality is that, from the point of view of manufacturing industry, the major difficulty in attracting investment is the lack of ease of access. Unless manufacturers can transport their products to the market efficiently and quickly, we will be at a major disadvantage.
The Bill includes a proposal to develop service and rest areas on the national road network. I welcome this because these are regular features on motorways in other countries. However, the Bill is vague with regard to when and how these rest areas will become a reality. I presume they will be privately operated. I would like the Minister to indicate exactly how they will be developed.
One of my main priorities as a Member of the House is to fight for much needed and better infrastructure in the county I was elected to represent. There is a major infrastructural deficit in County Mayo, the economic consequences of which are self-evident. Moneys from the European Union intended for the west were siphoned off elsewhere. Between 2000 and 2005, only 74% of the expenditure assigned to new roads in the BMW region was spent. In the same period, 120% was spent in the east and south. We do not begrudge the east or the south their good fortune. However, the west and County Mayo, in particular, are seeking their fair share.
I congratulate the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on his appointment and also the Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher, on his elevation. Like previous speakers, I enjoyed his contribution with other politicians on the "You're a Star" show.
I look forward to many more contributions from the Minister of State.
As a new Deputy for Dublin and daily road user — I travel both by public transport and car from my home in the north east of Dublin — I must admit that I am not overly impressed with the standard of our roads or the length of time it takes to commute. For me, a journey of six miles can, depending on whether it rains, sometimes take up to one hour to complete. That is simply not good enough. Too many of the capital's streets are badly congested. Is it any wonder that motorists drive around the city with very gloomy faces and that they are stressed out, particularly if they are late for work? This is not acceptable and the sooner the better Operation Freeflow is introduced on a year-round basis in order to help rectify the situation. After all, carbon emissions will decrease if traffic begins to flow.
Motorists pay their fair share of taxes, including VRT and excise duties on diesel and petrol. They must also meet the high cost of insurance. They deserve better treatment.
There is a serious lack of adequate public transport services in my area. There is no Dublin Bus service for the residents of Clonshaugh in Dublin 17, referred to by the people concerned as the forgotten estate. In addition, there is a very poor bus service for those who live on the Howth Peninsula. Many elderly residents are forced to walk, sometimes in inclement weather, to catch buses on other routes. There are no Luas or metro lines in my constituency.
There is still no DART station for the people of the north fringe area, which will house a population of up to 40,000 over the next ten years, despite the promise of one once the population reached 1,000. Today, the population is more than 1,200 but there is still no DART station to be seen. However, there is promise of one by the end of 2008, about which I am sceptical. I certainly hope the Minister will take note of this issue.
I agree with the provision to provide adequate rest facilities for drivers on our national road network and feel that these facilities will be greatly welcomed by all road users. They will help to prevent driver fatigue, which certainly contributes to many accidents on our roads. I welcome this new legislation which will also provide sanitary and refreshment facilities to cater for all road users.
There should be no tolls on our national roads. Motorists pay enough taxes and should not have to face double taxation charges. As it stands, anyone travelling from the south side to the north side on the M50 on a daily basis faces a daily charge of €3.60 or €18 per week, over €900 per annum. Someone living in Howth and working in Finglas faces no toll so the system is neither equitable nor fair. Travelling to work by car is very expensive but for many, there are no other options because of our poor public transport network.
I attended the match between Dublin and Offaly last weekend in Croke Park and felt sorry for the many residents in Fairview and North Strand whose gateways and driveways are constantly blocked by cars abandoned during match days. For the emergency services, this situation is totally unworkable. For local residents and other road users, there is no doubt that this new legislation to deal with parking at sports stadia on event days will be welcomed.
Why are 75 out of 100 new buses recently delivered to Dublin Bus not operational and why is the bus service from Swords to the city centre, which briefly used the port tunnel thus cutting 30 minutes off the journey, now discontinued?
I will begin by congratulating my fellow Corkonian, Deputy Billy Kelleher, on his recent elevation and wish him good luck in his position.
I have a number of observations on reading the Bill. A very obvious one is that the Minister almost by means of a magic wand can now change the designation of a dual carriageway to a motorway. There is more to that than the Minister simply coming in and making that decision.
Last year, in his former portfolio as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Dick Roche spoke about the need for noise pollution and other environmental measures to be in place as a result of an EU directive. These matters are still outstanding. In my constituency of Cork South Central where motorways were built approximately ten years ago, many of the environmental standards and motorway requirements that should be in place are outstanding. If we were building these roads now, they would not be built in the fashion in which they have been built. The survey work to itemise and highlight the different difficulties and environmental noise pollution being experienced has been done but when will we see the funds freed up and the proper noise restrictions put in place in these areas? In areas like Capwell and Slieve Mish and around Turner's Cross, people cannot use their back gardens because of these motorways and increasing traffic usage.
Another matter, which I suppose is the bigger picture, is the absence of joined-up thinking in the development of our roads network in recent years. An obvious case is the South Link road in my constituency where a very successful flyover was put in place on the Kinsale road roundabout and where we are now awaiting the completion of roundabouts on Sarsfield Road and Bandon Road. Once again, the council has carried out the preliminary survey work and we are waiting on the NRA to come in with the finances. This is just one example of disjointed action. On the one hand, we have the NRA, while on the other, we have local authorities. When one tries to pin down Ministers on issues relating to road works, they wash their hands and say it is the responsibility of the NRA.
We are approaching 2009. The county development plans are about to be rolled out and we will see major rezoning, including industrial, light industrial, commercial and particularly residential rezoning, taking place across the country. We do not have a system where the roads plans we have for this country are tied to that type of rezoning. What tends to happen is that roads are built and we then look at rezoning or we look at rezoning and then look at roads. Once again, I point to my constituency of Cork South Central. Right across the necklace of the south of the city, regardless of whether it is from Rochestown, Douglas, Carrigaline, Ballygarvan, Lehenaghmore and right over as far as Bishopstown, over the past 15 years we have seen housing estate after housing estate being built. Thousands of houses have been built in Cork and in major satellite towns along country boreens. In effect, people come out of their brand new homes in the morning, get into their cars, drive on a road which is probably yet to be taken in charge by the local authority because it is so new and, when they come to the end of that road, in places like Maryborough Hill or Donnybrook Hill, they come out on to a country boreen. The same thing happens in Carrigaline. This is something the Bill should address but I see no mention of it. A situation should not arise where we look at maps, see roads where two cars would struggle to get up and down if they met one another coming in opposite directions and yet facilitate the development of major housing estates of between 500 and 1,000 houses.
The previous speaker mentioned the use of buses on our road networks. By means of a parliamentary question, I recently discovered that there is a bus in Cork with mileage equal to the distance between here and the moon and back and half way back up again. That bus is being driven around Cork city as I speak.
Well it is. Sometimes, the shuttle is the No. 3 and sometimes it is the No. 2, which goes into the Minister of State's constituency. In addition, this bus is being driven around the city. We have a bus fleet where the newest bus is five years old and has come from Dublin. I understand that when buses reach a certain age limit in Dublin, they are added to our fleet in Cork.
In his earlier manifestation as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Dick Roche spoke about the need to deal with environmental noise. Planning authorities are allowing massive housing estates to be built. The NRA is saying it can do what it wishes and when one asks a Minister what the NRA is doing, he or she tells one that it is not in the Minister's brief.
I would like to have seen the Bill provide for some sort of joined-up thinking and, in particular, some forward planning because of the errors I have witnessed in Cork-South Central and other areas where development and road development are not measured hand in hand but accidentally collide at times. Regrettably, this is not the case.
Although barrier-free tolling is the central tenet of this proposed legislation, Sinn Féin believes the debate should centre around the very concept of tolls. In respect of the M50, through tolls alone, motorists have already paid for the cost of this motorway many times over. It is a sizeable chunk ending up in the hands of the private National Toll Roads. Although public private partnerships have failed and proved costly for road construction, the Government continues to embrace this form of privatisation. Sinn Féin believes public moneys should be utilised for building roads and is fundamentally opposed to tolls, with or without barriers. This piecemeal and long-awaited commitment to the removal of toll barriers has been well overdue. However, it is only the toll barriers that will be removed and not the tolls. Road tolling is another stealth tax, one which motorists are compelled to pay for the pleasure in entering Europe's largest car park, the M50. Motorists already pay road tax, which is supposed to cover the cost of building and maintaining roads. Tolls are simply another form of double taxation and are essentially a tax on workers travelling to and from work. Tolls have proved to be a lucrative money-spinner for private toll operators who make millions of euro annually. The then Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, consistent in his record for wasting taxpayers' money, gave the green light for the buy-out of the tolls at the substantial cost of €730 million, when the cost of introducing barrier-free tolling is included.
A positive element to the Bill is the provision for rest and service areas on the national road network. The Bill states a road authority or other relevant authority may make provision for a service area scheme. Will it be mandatory for all motorways to be provided with proper rest and service areas or is it at the discretion of the relevant authority? Sinn Féin raised the concerns of road hauliers on this matter with the former Minister for Transport Deputy Cullen, only to be met with a sense of inaction. The number of service stations and washing facilities for hauliers and motorists are inadequate. There is a lack of safe areas for hauliers to park. With the EU directive on drivers' hours being enforced by the Garda traffic corps, it is impossible for hauliers to find safe and secure places to park to take required breaks and sleep overnight if needs be. The current predicament is that road hauliers are forced to use the hard shoulder for breaks which is illegal and dangerous. It is a catch-22. If truck drivers stop for a break, they break the law by parking on the hard shoulder; if they do not stop to take their breaks, they also break the law. With the carnage on the roads, we need progressive measures to ensure there are no tired truck drivers on our roads.
The Bill contains powers for the Minister to designate a high quality dual carriageway as a motorway. What about assigning powers to stop a motorway being constructed? Protected roads are referred to in the legislation. What about protecting our heritage? I refer to Fianna Fáil-led plans of cultural vandalism in constructing a 70-mile motorway close to the Tara Valley which contains a high concentration of ceremonial monuments. It is no wonder that Tara has been announced as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world.
I welcome parts of the Bill, particularly those for service and rest facilities on motorways which will benefit hauliers. Safe areas must be made available where they can park. I always note when travelling on the N7 the number of trucks parked on the hard shoulder which is dangerous for other motorists.
The Government is embarking on the largest and most ambitious investment in our national infrastructure. Under Transport 21, €10 million will be invested every day for ten years. This €34 billion investment is transforming infrastructure with an investment of €18 billion in the road-building programme and €16 billion in public transport.
From 1997 to 2006, 191 km of new motorway and 479 km of new dual and single carriageways were built. Of this, 100 km were completed in 2006. In 2007, €1.5 billion will be invested in the national road network with a total of 673 projects. Spending on non-national roads at €607 million in 2007 means that over €2.1 billion a year will be invested in new and improved roads. This amounts to €178 million a month.
There has been criticism from some quarters that it is taking too long to build up the transport infrastructure. No Government has ever built on the scale of the Fianna Fáil-led Government. While some projects have come in behind schedule, others are ahead of schedule. A combination of several significant initiatives is delivering major road projects faster, in budget and, in most cases, ahead of schedule. These initiatives include securing agreement on multiannual investment plans that guarantee State investment, greater efficiencies in construction, a competitive edge introduced by the involvement of international consortia and the development of a dedicated skills base in construction firms. The steady pace at which projects are going through the planning process means there will be a reserve of projects that can be quickly elevated to the tender and construction stage. Increasingly, the trend is towards the completion of major stretches of motorway and dual carriageways ahead of schedule.
The Roads Bill is predominantly concerned with the introduction of barrier-free tolling on the M50. Many Dubliners and constituents in Kildare North are too familiar with traffic problems on the M50. The population of Kildare has risen by over 23,000 people since 2002. This large rise in population, in addition to a dramatic increase in the number of cars on roads, has meant commuting to Dublin takes its toll on many young working families. The introduction of barrier-free tolling will ease journey times for many people.
The move to barrier-free tolling on the M50 is the most modern way of dealing with large volumes of traffic. The upgrading of the M50 from two to three lanes is also vital and will allow the motorway deal with 50% more traffic, as well as alleviating congestion in and around Dublin and on the N3, N4 and N7.
While the cost of the buy-out has been the subject of criticism, a contract was in place with NTR until 2020. The buy-out means that, on behalf of the taxpayer, the Government will ensure NTR does not get the benefit of the €1 billion investment on the M50 which will see its capacity increase by 50%.
The road-building programme is eliminating bottlenecks, alleviating congestion, reducing journey times and increasing road safety. In County Kildare, examples include the Naas Road upgrade and the Monasterevin, Kildare and Kinnegad bypasses. Next year work will begin on the Carlow bypass, providing more benefits to County Kildare. A modern efficient road network is vital for our continued prosperity. Transport 21 and the development of a high quality road infrastructure will support competitiveness, create jobs and facilitate regional development. It will also lead to better road safety. I congratulate Kildare County Council for its recent approval of material contravention for a service area on the M7 at Monasterevin.
I wish Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher, well in his new appointment. As this is my first speech in the House, I wish to thank the people of Wicklow for electing me.
Having studied the Bill, I believe it is both practical and progressive for an era with multi-car households and high volume traffic. Even as we strive to improve public transport provisions, it is noteworthy that other countries with much better services also have barrier-free tolling in place. The caveat is that just because we improve tolling efficiency and speed up throughput, this may be taken as carte blanche for applying tolls everywhere and anywhere. Such initiatives must be justifiable and a quid pro quo for an efficient tolling system should be reflected in toll costings and in the reviews that take place. We do not want to replicate the experience on the M50 where an increase in the toll was approved as part of a contract, when it was clearly shown this was unnecessary.
One of the concerns already highlighted relates to the application of default fines. We can apply EU laws right across the European Union when it suits us. Is it odd that when a car is insured by a Polish company, for example, to cover travel in Ireland, it should be liable for fines in this jurisdiction? I am taking Poland as an example. Across the EU there is harmonisation of all Community legislation, so it should be possible to implement this.
As regards the M50 the only concern is the timeframe, which is more than a year ahead and this in particular should be prioritised. As an aside, yesterday the figure of 1 million was reached for trucks going through the port tunnel, a great testament to its success. However, I heard on one of the vox pops that a bus driver who was using it and got a round of applause from his passengers has been told he can no longer use it. I urge a review of the usage of the port tunnel so public transport vehicles are the next class of carrier to be able to use it without incurring charges. This probably would alleviate traffic, especially that which is heading north. I have had occasion to use the tunnel once or twice while running late when the charge was €6, outside the time when the charge is €12. When there are two or three people in the car who will otherwise miss a flight it certainly seems like good value.
On the issue of the high quality dual carriageway, this proposal has a harmonising effect as regards high quality roads and motorways and speed limits, signage, etc. Since everyone else has been given latitude as regards being parochial, I wish to ask that Euroroute 1, Larne-Rosslare, which includes the N11, be included in that along with the major urban routes. However, this would mean completion of the final 11 km from the Beehive to Scratnagh Cross in Wicklow. This road has caused carnage in the past couple of months. The €750,000 in Government funding for improvements is welcome but the volume of traffic is such that when people emerge from the motorway or dual carriage, which now extends to the Border, they find it difficult to come to terms with this stretch of road. Regardless of speed limits and traffic management, people are involved in major and minor accidents every week. I know it is mentioned in the latest development plan, but there is no timeframe. If it was to start tomorrow it would still be 15 months before construction would begin.
I am sure the Government will not quote statistics that indicate the extra kilometres of motorway being provided include roads that might be upgraded. I presume only new motorway statistics will be included when the statistics are published. As regards service areas, the road from the Border to the Beehive, which is continuous motorway and dual carriageway, extends over 150 km and there are not more than two pull-over points in either direction. There is a requirement for five or six rest areas. About 14 months ago the NRA put local authorities on notice that it would enforce its right to object to planning permissions on or near interchanges, including those that provided for rest areas. If this is a new initiative from the NRA, I welcome it, but it appears to fly in the face of the notice given at that stage. I would like clarification in this regard. Nonetheless, it appears to be a welcome initiative, reflecting as it does best practice on health and safety grounds for truck drivers in particular, who are mandatorily obliged to take certain periods of rest.
Car-parking at stadia, especially at major venues, and not just in Dublin, is also of some concern. In Thurles, for example, it is a particular problem for local people, and the by-laws should be introduced in consultation with both residents and local businesses. All classes of stadia in future will be used for more than just sport, because they have the infrastructure and are modern and people want such facilities. Certainly, the people who suffer continuously in this regard should be considered.
Finally, the taxi regulations are generally welcome. However, by-laws in towns in particular should allow for non-taxi people who do not enjoy taxi rank facilities to park in despatch areas, load bays, etc. without incurring the obligation to pay a parking fee. The current arrangement is unfair because as a hackney operator expressed it to me, he does not make money when his car is parked outside a despatch office. Invariably such people have to pay €1 or €1.50 and this should be taken into consideration. I realise it is a matter for the local authorities, but it is something on which the Department should give a directive.
I thank Deputy Andrew Doyle for sharing time and I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Terry Killeen, to the House.
I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this debate. All of us, particularly in the west, are conscious that we are only now starting to initiate major projects as regards infrastructure. Expenditure over the past ten years in the BMW areas relative to Dublin and Leinster clearly reflects the imbalance in the delivery of major infrastructure to the west. The NRA's forward planning techniques are very poor. There are many examples of this, as the Minister of State is aware. As we leave Dublin this afternoon we find that what should have been incorporated in the initial stages of major infrastructure around the capital is totally inadequate, at the roundabouts, etc. Nobody within the NRA's engineering or planning staff appears to have had the foresight to see the necessity for the slip roads now being put in at various junctions.
There are other examples in the far west. The Taoiseach, along with the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, visited Gort in County Galway, where we are at the final planning stages for the provision of the new N18, particularly the part from Oranmore to Gort to Crusheen, bordering the Minister of State's constituency. The NRA has continuously refused to provide a second entrance to the town of Gort, despite the fact the case for its obvious need has been submitted to it. It continually says it will be considered when there is a need. That is a classic example which shows the NRA has learned nothing from the mistakes of the past.
Is it responsible to anybody or the Minister for its very costly mistakes? Those in the west and the Border, midlands and west region have had to wait a long time for a major upgrade of their infrastructure and have had to sit by while the mistakes the NRA made in the rest of the country have been corrected at great expense.
Consider the rest areas proposed in the Bill. Why is the NRA so secretive about identifying their exact position in its plans for the major routes throughout the remainder of the country and in respect of existing upgraded roads? There is no indication whatever that it has identified the locations of rest areas on roads subject to planning and under construction. Is there a reason for its not doing so?
People in the west, including industrialists, travelling to Dublin Airport or Dublin Port for commercial reasons will have to pay three tolls to get to the former and four to get to the latter. In some cases, particularly for a truck, this would cost an additional €60 for the return journey. If we are to disadvantage manufacturers transporting goods from the west to Dublin Port with an additional penal tax on road use, we are not being serious about encouraging growth in the west. How can any industrialist seriously consider locating in the west when there is such an impediment and disincentive put in place by central government and the NRA? The toll booths represent a money machine for those constructing them.
If one leaves the outskirts of Dublin and travels westward as far as Kinnegad on the N6, one will find no service area of any kind, even though one is travelling on a motorway. There is a maximum speed limit of 120 km/h. Between Kinnegad and Kilbeggan, there is a road of equal, if not better, standard. There is no doubt that it is a top-class road but a speed limit of 100 km/h is applied thereon. This has caused confusion and some have been penalised because of the inadequacy of the road signage on the new section.
The quality of the signage on modern roadways leaves an awful lot to be desired. As one approaches many signs, especially at dusk, even if driving with full-beam lights, the information does not show up clearly. There are several cases of very inferior road signage on the new section of road between Kinnegad and Kilbeggan, either because of the way in which it is manufactured or the quality of material used. This can be regarded as a danger because one's inability to read signs on time to determine the location of exits can cause disruption to motorists behind who clearly intend to drive straight ahead. I ask that these points be taken up with the NRA.
Do the NRA and Government realise the consequences of certain new infrastructural developments, for instance, on the N17 and N18, which extend from Tuam to the Clare border beyond Gort? Already fragmented farms are being split again. The Government is continuing to impose a penal tax on farmers' livelihoods by way of acquiring their land through compulsory purchase orders. In the west, where farms are already seriously fragmented, the splitting in two of small parcels of land prevents absolutely the continuation of viable farming in many instances. While it may not be the case in all instances, those responsible for compensating farmers should have a more considerate and conciliatory way of apportioning compensation and the Government should not have demanded an additional penal tax on what was, to many farmers, their livelihood and which is now rendered pretty much useless. I hope these matters will be attended to.
Everyone is aware of the steadfastness of the NRA in refusing to move its routes, even marginally, once put on paper, although they may just be desktop designs rather than finalised proposals. It creates a design and route and will not change them regardless of the consequences. In this regard I hope the case of Gort will be addressed. The Taoiseach said there would be no problem having a second entrance into Gort and Deputy Roche, the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, said there would be a second entrance into the town. I do not refer to a bypass but to the new section of the N18 proposed for the area. There is no reasonable access to the town. Heretofore, traffic coming from the midlands, going through Loughrea and on to Gort, would have turned left before the town to avoid passing through it, but under the new plans of the NRA, it is now forced to go through the town. Trucks and other vehicles from the midlands on their way to Shannon Airport and Limerick are now forced to pass through the town, thus adding to the serious traffic congestion on the N18 from Limerick to Galway.
I do not understand why the NRA persists in ignoring the practical considerations of the people living in areas where difficulties have been identified. I hope there will be a response, even at this late stage and in this Bill, to the practical considerations and to the lack of forward thinking of the NRA and, as a consequence, the Government.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Barrier-free tolling is welcome but no toll at all would have been better, as others have pointed out.
Given that we will have tolling, although I thought we were wealthy enough not to need to impose a further tax on motorists and hauliers, I appeal to the Minister to take the disabled into account. My appeal to his colleague, the Minister for Finance, on stamp duty fell on deaf ears so I hope we will get a better response today. There is an anomaly at present where if a person is driving a vehicle that has been specially adapted because of a disability, he can pass toll-free but if he has a disability and is displaying a sticker from a body such as the Irish Wheelchair Association, he cannot. Will the Minister examine this area and lessen the burden for those who are already burdened with disability?
People have mentioned rest areas, highlighting a problem that is particularly acute in my constituency — the lack of forward planning. People know the motorways will be used and the lengths of journeys that must be undertaken but it is only now that we are providing for rest areas. Hopefully it will be a speedy process.
The other issue is congestion on the M50. It is a nightmare for commuters; the "M50 car park" and the "mad cow roundabout" have entered common parlance. Fingal County Council, in its discussions with the NRA when the road was being designed and built, wanted to put in proper junctions, flyovers and on-off ramps so traffic could flow freely. It was told they were not necessary but now we are in the current mess, digging up the M50 to install a third lane on each side and we may need to add a further lane in ten years. Has that been studied? What is the projected usage for the M50 in ten years time and will we need a fourth lane?
The M1 must be upgraded to six lanes. Large-scale development is proposed, with talk of a new port at Bremore, lands zoned for industrial use at Lissenhall, Tesco, Ikea and the new terminal and proposed new runway at Dublin Airport. All of these will cause a huge increase in use and we should anticipate it. Instead of waiting until capacity has reached breaking point, we should plan ahead. The people of north Dublin would be happy to see new developments in the port at Balbriggan but they will not suffer as they have had to for the past 15 years a development that creates more problems than it solves. I demand that the Minister ensure there is simultaneous development of the infrastructure necessary to make that port an asset rather than a headache. There must be access roads and a new ring-road from north of Balbriggan to Navan and on to Naas for traffic to the west and south that does not need to go near Dublin or the M50.
On the M1, with the development of Lissenhall, we need another spur, something I have called for in the past, to ease congestion in the mornings and evenings. Such congestion will only get worse as these lands are developed. At present it takes 30 minutes to get from Lusk to Swords, and longer to get from Skerries, Lough Shinny or Rush. That journey used to take ten minutes. Despite the improvements brought by the M1, we have not planned for sufficient capacity. With all respect to the Taoiseach, I do not want to hear again that no one could have anticipated the growth of the country and that is why the M50 is insufficient and must be upgraded.
Road signs are not clear enough. There is no sign for Lusk at the first motorway junction coming from Dublin city. It is first posted at another exit three or four miles further north, even though the town now has a population of 7,000.
The gridlock on the M50 is not just a nuisance for commuters, it is a serious problem for the emergency services. The Fire Service and ambulances get held up. It is bad enough that ambulances are stuck in accident and emergency wards because their trolleys are being used by patients in the hospital due to the lack of beds. I asked the Minister for Health and Children to make spare trolleys available so ambulances can leave hospital and get back on to the road. If the road is blocked, however, it could be a matter of life and death for someone.
In Skerries, the local area plan includes a new access road so trucks and buses do not have to go through Rush because they cannot go under the bridge in Skerries. Using this new road, they will be able to go straight through but we have been told by the county engineer that it may take up to six years to achieve the necessary €5 million spend. What is the problem and where are the hold-ups that mean something so straightforward takes so long? It certainly baffles the people of north Dublin.
A model for road use and capacity around Swords was carried out in 2004 by the then county architect, who is now county manager, and even then it showed we were operating 25% above capacity. This will get worse with the proposed metro coming on stream. Have arrangements been made for a park and ride facility and if not, why not? If arrangements have been made, it will increase traffic flow into the area as people start to use public transport.
The train stations throughout Dublin north have insufficient car parking and no nipper bus service, except for a pilot service in Balbriggan north in recent years. This scheme has worked and should be extended to Portmarnock, Malahide, Rush, Donabate and Skerries. Road access to the stations is also appallingly bad, particularly in Portmarnock, making it difficult for pedestrians to walk to them safely. In Lusk, it took six years to complete a footpath from the village to the train station so pedestrians could get there.
The trains are overcrowded. The motorways under this Bill, like the accident and emergency departments in the hospitals, are not islands onto themselves in the system. While we put roads in place, we must also support trains, extend the DART out to Balbriggan and put more capacity in place on the trains. I see patients who faint on the train, particularly pregnant women, and schoolchildren who are forced off the train by people trying to get to work. I know a man who retired early because he could no longer face the journey on the train from Balbriggan.
We seem to be caught up with difficult red tape which people either do not understand or find difficult to accept. I refer to the Dublin Port tunnel which has been mentioned by other speakers and to the fact that the No. 41 express bus cannot use the tunnel because it needs a licence to do so. It is a bizarre situation that public transport should require any licence to pass through the tunnel but even if this is the case, surely the Minister should make that happen as soon as possible. Even if EU rules and regulations state that a licence is necessary, why was Dublin Bus not invited to tender for a licence? Swords has a population of 40,000. I congratulate Paddy Maguire, the bus driver, for using his initiative and exposing this farcical red tape where taxpayers have paid for the tunnel and the public buses but cannot avail of the tunnel. I wonder what is the view of the Green Party of this unnecessary increased pollution with the bus on the road half an hour longer than it needs be. I hope the Minister will pre-empt the problems rather than waiting for them to develop.
I congratulate the Minister on his elevation as Minister and I congratulate Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher, a politician from my own county who has been elevated to the post of Minister of State in the Department of the Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
The Roads Bill 2007 will create major freeflow roads for the major cities but nothing for my region of the south west. I remind the Minister of State that the constituency of Cork South-West extends from Cork Airport to Mizen and Sheep's Head and the Dursey Sound. It does not have one mile of national primary road, yet it is 120 miles from Cork Airport to those three locations. This area is much larger than many counties. The only legacy left by Fianna Fáil to south-west County Cork was the removal of the railway between Cork city and Bantry and Skibbereen and the light rail system and tram service from Skibbereen to Schull in the 1950s. They sold the railway tracks to a Third World African country and I believe it is still running to perfection in that country.
On that occasion the then Fianna Fáil Minister with responsibility for transport, power and local government promised that our road system from Cork to Bantry, Castletownbere and Baltimore would be reclassified to national primary status. Yet, 50 years later, we do not have one mile of national primary route in south-west County Cork. This is a dismal legacy for an uncaring Fianna Fáil Administration. Rosy promises but no action seem to be the name of the game in so far as south-west County Cork is concerned. How long more will the Minister treat south-west County Cork as the Cinderella region of this country? It has no rail service, no air service, no ferry service and no primary road service, yet Castletownbere is the largest fish landing port and Bantry is the national capital of mariculture and aquaculture.
Barley Cove, Inchydoney and Owenahincha are in the tourist riviera of Ireland. It is the major agricultural region of Ireland with companies such as Carbery Milk Products, Bandon, Barryroe and Drinagh and Lislevane co-ops, yet the region is starved of adequate road, rail and air infrastructure. It is time for the Minister to wake up from his slumber and recognise that his Government is slowly strangling the life blood of the south-west Cork region.
The last time I spoke in this House on a Roads Bill was on Tuesday, 12 June 2001. I took an enforced sabbatical from this House at the last general election but, thank God, I am back again to speak on behalf of the people I represent.
They are still in Government but there are no results from that long-term power-sharing arrangement. They are now with the Greens, the Progressive Democrats and Independents. The Taoiseach's purse must be greater than Séadna's purse if he can placate and please the five or six Independent Deputies he has brought in behind him as a safety hatch——
I await the results and I hope that south-west Cork will be thought of in a better way now. It is to be hoped that some of the largesse that Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae has in the boot of his car and in his briefcase will be diverted to the constituency of Cork South-West as well because we cannot live on fresh air and cold water.
The south-west corridor does not touch one inch of Cork South-West, yet that is an important bulwark of the south-west region. Proper road infrastructure is of paramount importance and it is the keynote to success and to any region's sustainability.
I live 240 miles from Dublin in the picturesque village of Goleen on the Mizen peninsula. I must travel one third of that distance in my car before I meet a dual carriageway on the road to Dublin. Cork South-West is deprived of industrial development by an inadequate road structure.
A relief road is long overdue for Bantry town, whose inhabitants are subjected to huge juggernaut lorries conveying fish from the south-west port of Castletownbere to the Continent. They must pass through that narrow network of streets in Bantry. We have been waiting for a relief road for the past 15 years. The land has been acquired and I ask the reason it has not been commenced. The inhabitants of Bantry town must put up with this inconvenience. The life blood and livelihood of the town is being strangled for the want of a proper road infrastructure. I invite the Minister for Transport and the Marine, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and his Ministers of State, to come to that picturesque area of Ireland this summer and spend a weekend there, if they are unable to spend a week or a fortnight, to see at first hand the serious situation that appertains to traffic in that town.
A proper relief road is vital for Bandon town where half a relief road was constructed 12 years ago. Since then, not a single yard of the remaining half has been completed. Why is there that deadlock in Bandon town? The road from Bandon to Bantry via Dunmanway should be upgraded to the status of at least a national secondary route.
Seven sections of the Bill are devoted to tolls and tolling systems. What good are they to the inhabitants of west Cork? The people of south-west Cork are entitled to the same concessions as all other citizens of this country, and the same service levels prevailing in Dublin, the midlands and elsewhere. Unfortunately, we are not getting that. Let us hope that, before long, this Bill has some repercussions that improve the situation. I see from section 46(3) that the Minister may now declare a proposed road to be a motorway under subsection (1).
In conclusion, I would like to amend the Roads Bill 2007 to allow the Minister to upgrade the road from Cork to Skibbereen and Bantry from a national secondary route to a national primary route. That is not too much to ask the Minister if he wishes to make up for the neglect of west Cork over the past 50 years.
This legislation deals with barrier-free tolling and other matters. Surely the only contribution the Government could make to road construction and traffic management would be to move away from it altogether. To ascertain what the problems are, all one need do is go down to the M50 and sit there. One can park there all day, but it is not even free since one must pay to pass through. It is extraordinary that, through an inability to improve the way that we meet our modern need for roads, we have, as Deputies Sheehan, Reilly and others have said, allowed daftness to prevail.
For example, the Dublin Port tunnel cannot accommodate tall trucks. It could only happen here that a tunnel could be designed for the needs of modern traffic at a time when roads across the country are chock-a-block, only for us to decide that it should accept only trucks below a certain height. Our answer has been to ban all others from the country. That is crazy and could only have happened here. Another anomaly is that we cannot bring buses into the tunnel without passing legislation. How did that happen? How did we reach a situation where the smallest and simplest things require legislation?
The Minister will put paid to all that, however, since, with a wave of his pen — at his whim, depending on whether he has enjoyed sweet dreams the previous night — he may now impose tolls. That will happen regardless of people's wishes and without consultation. It is nice that he may now do so. It is almost a kind of royal command performance. I doubt whether such proclamations represent progress. Those of us who served on local authorities, long ago or more recently, feel that we should take stock of what is happening and ask ourselves a serious question.
I recently visited Portugal to consider its road-building campaign. In four or five years, that country has opened motorways everywhere. They pass over mountains and through valleys, with various viaducts. The Portuguese have built a road system that is second to none. They have not produced something that is three quarters of the way there, but an excellent six-lane motorway all over the country. They have built up their transport and communications infrastructure to bring all parts of their country together.
We have not yet done so, despite our proclaiming that we have achieved great things. The Irish road transport system is appalling, yet we have a very high degree of dependence on it. For some unknown reason, no one seems to have thought about it. The population is rising, and one can see how many trucks are on the roads if one goes driving early in the morning. We presume that our introduction of barrier-free tolling is a great thing for society. They have had that for some time everywhere else and people can simply drive through. Why we must legislate for that at this stage I do not know.
It would have been a great gesture if, four or five years ago, the tolls that caused so many logjams, especially on the M50, had been abolished. To have lifted those barriers and let people drive through would have been a concession to society, the hard-pressed motorist and the overtaxed citizen. At some point we must give them a break. In return for all the long delays, we are heavily taxed regarding tyres, cars and the VRT that we pay on them. In case there is any possibility of our escaping, we are hammered at the toll bridges. As recompense, we have the privilege of waiting. We need Valium to soothe our shattered nerves, so long have we waited.
The Bill refers in passing to various issues now so obvious that the very dogs in the street bark their awareness. The fact seems to have escaped us that, apart from the famous Transport 21, there has been no overall plan. The phrase was trotted out so often during the general election that it seems to have lost its meaning.
Several factors are relevant to our quality and way of life. Ireland does not have a road system developed during the Industrial Revolution, and neither did we get one in the 1960s or 1970s. Other countries provided for such development and they do not share our problems with traffic. There is no use in throwing up our arms and saying that the situation is serious. We are a very small country with exceptional traffic problems. Other, smaller countries with bigger populations have managed to solve the problem. They did so by a variety of means, drawing on all available alternatives rather than relying on a single transport system.
With the Green Party in Government, one might expect to see those various options now being brought forward. I am not sure that a police motorcycle escort is necessarily a step in the right direction. I would not advise the Minister of State opposite, Deputy Tony Killeen, to indulge in that type of fantasy. I do not know that his constituents would advise it either.
I want to see something realistic in terms of the development of those alternatives and putting them in place so as not to waste any more money or time and infuriate the taxpayer to a greater extent than he or she has already been infuriated. We must now look at the options.
One can move goods and people from one point to another by road or rail and by public or private transport. I do not know the extent to which attention has been given to the transportation of goods by rail, although much has been said about it in passing. If it is to happen, there must be serious investment in rail of which I have not seen evidence certainly in my time in this House. It will require a much more ambitious plan than Transport 21. It will mean the heavy goods vehicles on the roads will travel by a different means. It is possible but requires serious investment and planning. God love us all on this little island of ours but serious planning is not one of our strong suits. It took a long time for us to stop the water coming into that little old tunnel about which we spoke a few moments ago. We have not yet been able to build a swimming pool in which we can keep water. We have difficulties in the planning area. If we are to see a shift from road to rail transport in terms of the transportation of goods, we need to see the plan which does not exist at present. Various logistics must be addressed in terms of roads and bridges. Either it is possible or it is not but we should be told.
The greatest opportunity available to us is road passenger transport. As Deputy Michael Fitzpatrick, my constituency colleague, will readily agree, the commuter rail service presents itself as the best we can achieve in terms of an answer to road traffic congestion for commuters. However, it must be to the benefit and convenience of the commuter and not the transport provider. That means the train service must be at a time and frequency which will suit the commuter, which will shift 1,000 people at one time and which will ensure 1,000 people are not stuck in their cars on the M50 or elsewhere. There would be huge benefits if that was pursued to the extent it could be. If the extent to which that could be achieved is maximised by way of forward planning and financial provision, it would be a good thing, as would Transport 21 and this Bill.
I expect the Green Party in Government will play a major role in providing these alternatives. I know Green Party Members are a little bit reluctant to come into the House at present. Shyness comes with recent promotion. It is normal in this country.
They could well be busy but I hope they do not exert themselves too much because running in front of or behind a squad car is a very strenuous exercise. I expect to see the Green Party's influence in this area soon. There is no use being shy or coy about it. They need to demonstrate their willingness to act.
Deputy P. J. Sheehan mentioned the road infrastructure to Cork. It is an awful reflection on our country which has been one of the wealthiest nations in the world, or certainly in Europe, for the past number of years that we still do not have a proper motorway to Cork, the southern capital, or to the south west. Notwithstanding everything that has happened heretofore, it is only now that we are suddenly realising nothing happens unless one plans and provides money. Our colleague across the water, Margaret Thatcher, when in government, decided in her latter years in office that there would be no more road building. This was seen by environmentalists as a great score and recognition of environmental issues. What she did not tell them was that she would not have to spend any money building roads and that it was a huge saving. As a result, the subsequent British Government had to invest. We can learn from the mistakes of our neighbours and can inspire others around us by doing the right thing.
I refer to our future transport requirements which we should bear in mind. In the 1940s and 1950s, we had roughly half the population we have now. It is quite easy, but expensive, to service a small population in terms of transport and other requirements. However, it is much more difficult to meet the transport requirements in today's world if one does not have a good network of obstruction-free roads. If we are not in a position to deliver to the public its requirements on a regular basis and reliably, we will face serious problems.
Incidentally, I saw an interesting programme on RTE recently in which energy and transport were discussed as well as the threat presented. It is not a threat but merely a challenge we must face. Many of the prophets of doom tell us the reasons we should be fearful of the future but I am surprised so few tell us the options of which there are many. It is purely a matter of developing those options. This country has plenty of options, including alternative and clean fuel. It is not true to say we face a doomsday situation. It is within our grasp to ensure we prevail in the future in the same way as other countries will. It is not true that the only answer to climate change is if everybody runs scared. Scientists are developing and bringing forward the options and alternatives. The time, energy and money we expend on research and development in that area will be money well spent.
I refer to a matter which has been a bone of contention with me for a long time. I cannot understand why we do not build roads for the future. We build roads for the past all the time. The M50, when completed, was already out of date. The only road built to stand the test of time was the Naas dual carriageway. It stood the test of time from the 1950s until the past couple of years. All the other roads built in the past ten years have failed the test of time within two or three years. Why take out a slow lane and build another lane? No other country does that. Rather, they build a road to take a precise amount of traffic over a projected period of time. They do it well and plan it accurately. Why can we not do that here? Why has it not been done?
I remember when I saw the original excavations for the M50 I rang the Department of the Environment to ask what had gone wrong. The works did not reflect the plan which had been shown to the local authorities, including Kildare County Council, which had an ongoing interest in the issue. I was informed that cost-cutting was responsible and the plan was to build a cheaper road. However, it has not worked out cheaper. Every day infrastructural expenditure is postponed, the cost is multiplied. The infrastructure will have to be provided at some stage in the future, but it will not be done for less. It is the lesson that must and can be learned from every infrastructural project undertaken in this country in the past ten years.
No better person than the Ceann Comhairle to assess that. The Minister is sincere and hard-working and the only advice I give him is to, for God's sake, get those who plan projects to plan for the future not the past. Will the Minister tell the Green Party to be careful when they are running down the road in front of the squad car? Road safety must be observed at all times at all levels of society and we should be careful about the example we give to others.
The Bill comes from the Seanad and I come with it. It is not often one has the opportunity to debate Second Stage of a Bill in both Houses of the Oireachtas and I am grateful for the second bite of the cherry. I notice that on a number of matters, including the Bill, the Green Party, which is very welcome in Government, is being incited to take up positions by Fine Gael Members which are quite contrary to Fine Gael policy. I wonder why.
The foundation of liberal economics was the phrase "laissez faire, laissez aller" coined in the 1750s by Vicomte de Gournay, a Frenchman who was part of what Edmund Burke called "that sect of economists". I have always had mixed feelings about tolls given their association with ancien régime Europe where they obstructed traffic and commerce. However, we have, for what must be admitted good reasons, had to reintroduce them to a certain extent. It is possible — I hope we will see them very soon — to have tolls which do not involve physical barriers as in the worst and most notorious case of the M50 toll bridge. I cannot find in the Minister's speech a precise date as to when the toll at the West Link will become electronic, but I hope it is soon.
While all sensible people avoid the M50 during rush hour if they can, considerable queues may also form outside that time. However, I am not so naive as to believe that when the obstruction is removed, traffic will not pile up promptly at some other pressure point. I have paid a few times for the pleasure or privilege of using the port tunnel which is a marvellous example of infrastructure. It speeds up a journey from the south side to the airport and gives one another option although one has to pay for it. As for swimming pools and lakes, I saw no moisture in the tunnel unless it was from the wheels of trucks.
Reference was made to a motorway between Dublin and Cork. I remember being a child in the 1950s before the Naas dual-carriageway was constructed when it used to take at least an hour, if not longer, to get from Naas to Dublin. Some time ago, we had a trip down memory lane, unfortunately due to a tragic accident at the M7-M9 junction, when we had to travel painfully through Kildare, Newbridge and Naas. It took the best part of two hours with modern levels of traffic and reminded one of the way things were. One was reminded if one needed it of the marvellous infrastructural progress which has been made. Deputy Durkan referred to planning ahead. There are critics of the intercity motorways who say current traffic volumes do not fully justify motorway infrastructure on every stretch of each route. The existence of such criticism, however, is proof that we are planning ahead and providing extra capacity now. While fine plans were made in the past, the money was not there to pay for them, unfortunately.
I am very enthusiastic about the provision in the Bill to upgrade the dual carriageways which are motorways in nature. One is reminded of those newspaper cartoons where one is invited to spot the difference. I must not be observant and percipient enough because I cannot see what difference there is between the Glanmire bypass and a motorway. On the assumption that the upgrade to motorway status will mean an upgrade to motorway speed limits, the change will deliver a better return on the hundreds of millions of euro we have invested in our road network. I cannot for the life of me see why the dual carriageway on the N4 beyond Kinnegad to the outskirts of Mullingar is not designated a motorway.
It is not before time that we are making provision for rest places on our road network. As the continuous stretches of motorway lengthen and link up, the shortage of places to stop becomes more acute. The conspiratorial side of me wonders if a spoken or unspoken deal was made some time in the past with the traders of particular towns that if they were bypassed, no services would be provided on the dual carriageways or motorways outside them. Whatever the case, it is high time the matter was corrected.
I draw the attention of the Minister to a particular aspect of the transport plans which involves the provision of cross-linkage. It was receiving the attention of his predecessor and continues to need urgent attention now.
The one flaw in the Atlantic corridor concept is that it is a large curve on a map which takes in Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford but nobody travels from Limerick or Galway to Waterford via Cork. People take the N24 from Limerick to Waterford and we have congestion particularly in those towns which do not have a bypass, namely, Tipperary town and Cahir. Clonmel has an inner bypass but needs an outer bypass. Carrick-on-Suir has an inner relief road but traffic does not go through the main streets. It is becoming an acute bottleneck and I do not need to tell the Minister the importance of the ports of Waterford and Rosslare. The tremendous amount of heavy freight traffic means the situation which we had for a long time in Gorey, New Ross and at its most extreme in Ennis is being created in Tipperary. The situation in Gorey will soon come to an end when the bypass is completed.
The Minister's predecessor met with Tipperary Town Council approximately three months ago with regard to the significant stretch of road from Oola or Pallasgreen in County Limerick to beyond Bansha. He stated money was provided in this year's budget for further design work and it will be upgraded to dual carriageway which will involve redesign. It should commence in 2009. I, my colleague from Tipperary South, Deputy Mattie McGrath, and the entire community, are extremely anxious to see it not merely started but completed during this term of Government. Limerick to Waterford is an essential cross-linkage. If nothing were done about it and the wait stretched from one hour to two hours one could eventually force people to go via Cork but this would defeat the purpose. This is my number one priority. The position at Cahir is different because it intersects with the M8 bypass which will also sort out the N24.
One often suspects that many of the people who speak about buses in the media have not used a bus for a very long time. I use all forms of public transport as well as a car. I use trains, the Luas and DART when I am in Dublin and buses. A tremendous amount of ongoing investment and improvement is taking place in public transport as well as in road transport. We have great services. The Luas is marvellous. I parked my car at the Red Cow park and ride facility this morning so I could get away reasonably quickly this evening. I took the Luas to the forum on Europe. The only problem is that longer carriages are required on the Tallaght line but I believe they will arrive within a few months.
The improved frequency of the train service from Dublin to Cork is greatly appreciated by those who use it. I use Limerick Junction and Thurles stations. We have more space and less overcrowding on the trains. I regret the underutilised capacity on our railways which could be used for heavy, slow-moving freight. I do not mean all types of freight. If the Minister examines discussions from the early years of this decade, he will see an expert group from Britain suggested Iarnród Éireann should get out of freight altogether. This seemed to consider its local focus without examining energy or environmental considerations. The Minister should explore freight use with Iarnród Éireann. If more mineral developments are opened up, particularly in the vicinity of a railway line, strong encouragement should be give to the company promoting or exploiting those ore deposits to use our railways.
I made a suggestion in the Seanad which perhaps is not dealt with directly in the Bill that the penalty points system should be applied to the problem of litter. This has been picked up or perhaps somebody thought of it in parallel. Vehicles are involved in a great deal of littering. I would not hesitate to attach five penalty points per sack of litter dumped at night in addition to any other penalty. I do not see why people who throw non-biodegradable rubbish out of their cars such as cigarette packs or plastic bottles should not incur two penalty points.
The Minister was responsible for one of the most brilliant environmental initiatives introduced in the State, namely, the 15 cent levy, which may have increased, on plastic bags which defaced the countryside. A vast improvement has been made since then. The impact of this was not that 15 cent would bankrupt anybody but it had a psychological deterrent effect. Applying penalty points to litter put out on roads from vehicles would be a major deterrent. I recommend the idea to the Minister.
I wish the Ceann Comhairle well and compliment him. He has done a tremendous job so far and I know he will continue to do so. I wish to be associated with the many other speakers who complimented my colleague and great friend Deputy Noel Dempsey on becoming the Minister for Transport and the Marine. When I entered the House in 1997 he became Minister for the Environment and Local Government. He then held the education portfolio and in more recent times that of communications, marine and natural resources. He now holds another important portfolio.
It is hoped the Minister will cut the ribbon to open the M3 during his term of office because he was responsible for it and I compliment him on it. When he became Minister for the Environment and Local Government, councillors and TDs had problems with traffic congestion in my home town of Kells as well as in Navan and Dunshaughlin. At the time we sought bypasses and discussions commenced with the Minister who had the NRA under his brief and the M3 became a reality. We have gone through many difficulties, arguments, hearings and court cases. I compliment the Minister and hope that road will be completed during his term of office and that there will be an official opening. In fairness, I would like to have the road called after the Minister given the amount of work he has put into it.
From the word go, with his colleagues we have fully supported it and never wavered or buckled at the knees. We kept at it and will continue to keep at it until it is built. On the N52 from Ardee through Kells and into Westmeath there have been massive improvements. As part of the M3, we are getting the N52 bypass of Kells which is a major boost. There are other places such as Collierstown, outside Kells on the Mullingar Road, which also need to be bypassed, including Clonmellon and Delvin. I compliment the Minister on the work done on the Navan bypass and the N51 into Athboy. There is a serious problem with the road between Athboy and Delvin which needs enormous improvements, particularly at Lynch's cross, Lisclogher. Neither I nor the Minister wants to see an accident take place at that cross roads. I ask the Minister to go down any of its byroads, whether the road to Ballivor or Kildalkey or the N51 from Kells to Clonmellon and try to come out at that junction. It was a death trap not only during the elections. It is in Westmeath. I appeal to the Minister to provide funding for that particular junction.
I am finding my way around. I join with other Deputies in congratulating you on your election to the position of Ceann Comhairle and I extend my congratulations to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, on his appointment as Minister for Transport and the Marine. I have a particular reason for doing that as the Minister shares a constituency border with me. Much of the traffic that is blocking up my area is made up of constituents of his, who have inadequate public transport, and are driving through Dublin West to access the M50 or to get into town. I sincerely hope that during his tenure in that Department he will significantly improve roads and public transport in his constituency, which would be of considerable benefit to me.
We would be delighted to send out the jobs and the housing as well because we have enough of both in Dublin West. We will send some of the people too if he wishes. In a previous incarnation, when I was a mere young Fine Gaeler, I gave the then Taoiseach, John Bruton, much abuse for not opening the train line to Navan. I certainly hope the Minister will do that.
Obviously everyone in the House welcomes the introduction of barrier-free tolling which is long overdue. It is nothing new in any other country. I have been to Norway where there has not been barrier-tolling since the 1970s. The people there were amused and bemused at the thought that a country like Ireland still has barrier tolling. Even in Washington, its airport motorway is all tolled by a camera system that reads one's licence plate and, if one breaks it twice or three times, the matter proceeds through the courts. That technology has been there for more than a decade. It is a indictment on the Government and the Civil Service that it has taken us so long to get this far.
The issue of the M50 toll bridge is of particular concern to my constituency, at least half of which is located in Dublin West. Deputy Brady suggested recently that the M3 should be named after the Minister. I suggest we rename the M50 toll bridge, the Bertie Ahern bridge or, perhaps, even more appropriately, the Burke bridge, after Ray Burke. That would be a fitting tribute to both of both of those men, given what they have done to commuters in Dublin.
The toll bridge, as most people are aware, was a sweetheart deal between the Government and NTR. Not only did they make the deal once, when the second bridge was built the deal was made all over again. The present position is that NTR's return on that investment will be in the region of 2,000%. Not since Jack bought his magic beans did anyone make such a good investment. I certainly hope we will never make that mistake again.
The provision for rest stops is long overdue. I suggest caution in selecting the location of rest stops and on giving local authorities too much power to designate them. I am aware that a number of herd-owners and business men across the country have designated their field or farm as a rest stop. For example, there is one area beside the M50 toll bridge where the owner of that particular ten acres would like to develop a rest stop. I cannot think of anywhere less appropriate for a rest stop than beside the toll bridge. I ask the Minister to be very careful in regard to the regulations he draws up to select the location of rest stops because if they are in the wrong place they will become a source of congestion.
I welcome the change of rules in regard to the designation of motorways although I do not know why this did not happen sooner. There are various sections of the N2 that are really motorway but have to be called N2, and the signage has to be the N2, because of the current legislation. That change is long overdue.
On the M50 upgrade, Deputy Reilly and others asked whether we would soon learn if the upgrade to three lanes would not be adequate. We already know from the information available that the upgrading of the M50 to three lanes and the upgrading of the interchanges will not be adequate. I suggest the development of the outer ring road, which should be at an advanced stage. There is no question that, sooner or later, we will need to have a proper outer ring road stretching, perhaps, as far north as Balbriggan and all the way around to Blessington and Bray. I expect to see that outer ring road well under way during the term of this Government. If we build an outer ring road it is important that the areas on either side are protected from development in order that we do not make the same mistakes as with the M50, which essentially became a magnet for development when it should have been a limit to the city.
Among the issues on the M50 that have not been resolved are noise and sound. Noise barriers are being put in place in some areas but in many others they are not. Those living alongside the M50 are subject to horrible disruption from noise and major devaluation to their properties. That is not the case in other countries. Anyone who visits Australia will see how its motorways are landscaped and how perspex tunnels and perspex barriers are put in place to keep out the sound. There is also the question of air pollution given that the levels of nitrous oxide in much of my constituency in the vicinity of the M50 exceed the recommended limits.
There is an issue in regard to forward planning for motorways that has not been properly addressed. Deputy Reilly expressed the view that the M1 will have to be upgraded to a much larger motorway. It is obvious we will need the eastern motorway on the sea side of the city to link up the M50 to the east and the completion of the city motorways. In some of the Nordic countries a system is used whereby all motorways are more or less provided by the private sector. They are all tolled and the toll is in place until the motorway has paid for itself and a certain profit for the private sector has been made after which the road reverts to the state with a considerably lower toll. That would seem to be the way to develop motorways across the country without expending any public money in developing them. Having done that all that money could be invested in public transport, particularly railways, which is where investment is needed.
We have mentioned Kells and Navan already. It is clear that regardless of what is done with the roads we will have major congestion on all those routes unless we upgrade public transport considerably. For many years in my constituency we have been asking for the DART to be extended to Dublin 15. The train service in my area, which I use, is greatly oversubscribed. It is not uncommon for people to faint on it or to be left on the platform. Despite considerable improvements in the frequency of service and length of carriages and the recent opening of the Docklands station, I was amazed that within a few weeks of the station opening the train was already full in Castleknock and was unable to pick up passengers in Ashtown, Broombridge and further down the line, which proves the massive latent demand for DART-type train services in other parts of the city.
Extending DART services to Maynooth appears to be the last item on the Transport 21 agenda after metro north and metro west. It is an enormous policy error to proceed with major land acquisition and tunnelling to build metro north and metro west — having metro west may be questionable — yet we are putting on the long finger the considerably easier job of electrifying the Maynooth line and reopening the Navan line, which could be done without the purchase of land and without planning delays.
Today the route options for the interconnector were published. I suppose this is welcome — they all look more or less the same to me. It appears that it will be at least 2015 before the interconnector will be in place. The interconnector is the crucial infrastructure to integrate our public transport network and allow people to get to where they want to go. Commuting has changed in Dublin. People no longer simply commute from the suburbs to the city centre, they commute from one suburb to another. They may live in Blanchardstown, work in Tallaght, shop in Dundrum and go to the airport and Swords. Without having a proper interlinked mesh of transport, we will get nowhere on public transport. I do not expect any major improvements in the next five years, which is disappointing. It may be the next government under this party that will open the interconnector, metro north and metro west. We will be happy to do that, but it is disappointing that it will take so long.
The introduction of integrated ticketing is crucial. While Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus claim we have integrated ticketing to a certain extent, that is not the case. It is still not possible to travel from Luas to bus or bus to DART while using the same ticket. It is not complicated and does not require much expenditure. We do not need detailed review groups and we do not need all the technology being proposed. It would be possible to take a model from any other city with concentric zones or whatever we wanted to use and introduce it within six months if the political will existed. Unfortunately the political will has been lacking for the past ten years and it remains to be seen whether the new Minister has the will to do it.
The same applies to planning guidelines. Motorways and roads do not stand on their own, but are crucially interlinked with how we develop our country. The more sprawl we have and the more inappropriately we develop towns around the country the more we will need roads, whereas what we all know we should be doing is limiting the size of our towns and cities and developing high quality housing at higher densities in existing built-up areas in brownfield sites near to transport nodes. As part of the Seanad election trail when I was canvassing around the country with Pascal Donoghue, who I hope will soon join us in the Seanad, I got to see the Westmeath county development plan. In a five-year development plan serious consideration is being given to increase by 500% or 600% the size of many small towns in Westmeath, including towns I had not heard of before going there. It took centuries or even a millennium to get those towns to their existing level.
We are now seriously considering allowing those towns to increase fivefold or sixfold in the space of five or six years. Obviously, the net consequence will be huge numbers of people on the roads who will need to travel elsewhere for employment and education. Those are the planning mistakes that have been made in the past ten years, leading to the development of huge towns like Celbridge, Leixlip and even Blanchardstown, whereas high quality, high density housing could have been developed nearer to the city.
I hope the new Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have the courage of his convictions, or at least the convictions he used to have, to throw out the development plans in Meath, Kildare, Laois and Offaly, and advise them that we cannot continue to develop the country in that way because the cost of developing sewerage systems and motorways is phenomenal. We need to reconsider how planning is carried out and it needs to be done properly. Green Party Members no longer seem to attend the Chamber except for divisions. I warn them that if they do not honour the commitment to introduce proper planning, another party, Fine Gael, will take up the mantle and supplant it as the party of proper planning and appropriate development.
It behoves me to welcome the aspects of the Bill that relate to barrier-free tolling, rest stops and the change in the definition of motorways. However, I cannot do so without emphasising the huge disappointment among the public in the way transport has been mismanaged in the past ten years. Unfortunately, I do not have confidence that when we go to the country in four or five years' time things will be dramatically different.
While this is not major legislation it contains provisions with which one could hardly disagree, including the redesignation of dual carriageways as motorways. We have often been concerned about coming off a motorway on to a dual carriageway only to find a garda waiting to catch people moving into a lower speed limit area. I hope that issue will now be rectified. It is ludicrous that we need legislation to provide for service and rest areas on the national road network. It should have been included in the original legislation and such areas should have been built into all the motorways, including the one to Drogheda and on to the Border, which connects to Belfast. That no service station has been built on the Southern stretch of motorway would be unthinkable in other countries.
We are way behind the times on barrier-free tolling. I remember driving in the United States approximately ten years ago and finding barrier-free tolling was quite common in many states as it is on the Continent. In these areas we should have been more imaginative and far-seeing. Like Deputy Mansergh, I have some reservations about tolling on roads. His reservation related to the ancien régime in France and he gave us some learned references in that regard. Closer to home I refer to Daniel O'Connell who stated at one time that he intended to drive a coach and four through British legislation, and he started when he was Lord Mayor of Dublin in the 1840s. There was a toll on Glasnevin Cemetery beside the Gravediggers pub and Daniel O'Connell decided he would open another entrance to Glasnevin Cemetery. Having done so, he got on to his coach and four and drove through that entrance thus avoiding paying the toll. Ever since then there has been no toll on Glasnevin Cemetery and the original entrance to the cemetery beside the Gravediggers pub has been closed, as can be seen by anybody who goes for a pint there.
While I have some reservations in that respect, I agree with Deputy Varadkar that money needs to be pumped into public transport. As time goes by we should look more towards this area. While there are mechanisms through which the private sector can finance projects, it needs to be done carefully because at present the involvement of the private sector in public private partnerships has been a cashcow for the private sector and has not been beneficial to the citizen. However, my main concern relates to section 12 which deals with resident parking. This section was amended in the Seanad but has not been referred to by previous speakers. The original section was introduced by the then Minister for Transport at the behest of residents associations in my constituency, particularly those near Croke Park such as the Iona and District Residents Association. They have conducted a long campaign to address traffic congestion in the inner city which worsens when major sports and entertainment events are held in Croke Park. Traditionally GAA matches are held in the stadium between the spring and autumn but international soccer and rugby matches are now being played there, while major concerts also take place throughout the year. Virtually all these events attract a capacity crowd of 82,500. A considerable number of one-storey and two-storey artisan dwellings are located in the area which becomes very congested. Life can be very difficult for local residents because of parking issues. They often become prisoners in their own homes which on occasion they cannot access. They find it almost impossible to park in the vicinity.
Section 12 provides for by-laws to be introduced to restrict parking around Croke Park at specific times during major sports and entertainment events. This is a desirable development which will make life relatively easier for residents on days when such events take place. The inner city, south and north, is inundated with cars when GAA matches take place in the stadium. When planning permission was granted for the expansion of Croke Park, a parking free zone with a one mile radius was proposed and the GAA undertook to locate a railway station beside the stadium following negotiations with Iarnrod Eireann in order that spectators could be brought directly to the stadium. This never happened, nor was the proposal in respect of a parking free zone ever implemented. The discussions at the time also referred to the construction of a series of car parks at the perimeter of the zone, which also did not happen.
When the by-laws are introduced to prohibit parking by spectators, park and ride facilities will be necessary because matchgoers should be provided with means to access the stadium. Park and ride facilities are vaguely referred to in Transport 21 but it contains no specific provisions for such facilities in the north or south inner city. A number of years ago my colleague, Deputy Shortall, proposed a number of park and ride sites along the M50 but nothing happened. Like everything else, the Government ploughs ahead with part of a project without seeing the overall picture. Park and ride facilities are non-existent for both commuters and matchgoers. This issue must be examined. When the new Lansdowne Road stadium comes on stream, the same issue will arise. Similar facilities will be required because local residents will seek the same exemptions under this legislation to apply in their area. One can imagine the pressure that will be exerted on local councillors to ensure their neighbourhood is not congested by cars every time a major match is held in the new stadium. This is a major issue which deserves to be teased out.
There is no template for the provision of residents only parking spaces in specified areas of Dublin. Since the Minister has no template, the legislation should be amended to provide for consultation with residents in order that local authorities would be obliged to put residents and residents associations in the picture rather than making unilateral decisions on the matter. Provision is made for notification of the drafting of by-laws but no provision is made for an egalitarian, consultative process between residents and the local authority as it carries out this work. The legislation should provide for such a structure to be put in place, otherwise we are going down the road with our eyes closed, as we are if we do not make provision for park and ride facilities to deal with spectators who are forced to park a long way from the stadia without access to public transport to get them to their destination.
Enforcement is another issue that needs to be examined. I attend residents association meetings and individuals outline instances of cars blocking their driveways for hours and green areas being damaged by SUVs and so on when matches are played in Croke Park. However, traffic laws are not enforced very much. Gardaí in Store Street, Fitzgibbon Street and Mountjoy stations are put to the pin of their collar to provide for the necessary policing of the event taking place in the stadium. As a result, other normal policing duties are not carried out. It will, therefore, be difficult for gardaí to check whether residents are affected by indiscriminate parking, unless specific mechanisms for the enforcement of parking regulations are provided or traffic wardens are deployed in the area.