Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to address concerns regarding levels of traffic congestion in Dublin, and especially the knock-on congestion caused by blockages on the M50 motorway; if he is developing a strategic plan to deal with the traffic problems on the M50; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45446/15]
The Minister is aware of the serious concerns among commuters and the business community in this city about the potential negative impact of congestion, in particular on the M50, on the lives of those who must commute to work on a daily basis and on growth rates in Dublin.
I will discuss the public transport dimension of responding to this challenge when I reply to the following question. For now, however, I will concentrate on the measures that relate to the M50 itself.
As the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in respect of the national roads programme. The planning, design and operation of individual road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, formerly known as the National Roads Authority, NRA, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 and in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. As I explained to the Deputy in my reply to his question of 24 November, TII examined a range of short and long-term measures to manage demand and optimise operational efficiency on the M50, many of which were published in its M50 demand management study in April 2014. At my request, TII has undertaken further analysis and work to identify a mix of measures that can be taken to improve operational efficiency. This analysis highlights that, since the completion of the M50 upgrade, annual traffic growth has continued and is accelerating with increased economic growth, with more than 140,000 vehicles per day now using the busiest sections.
A number of short-term measures are being progressed. These include changes to junction layouts at key locations following recent upgrades at the N3-M50 and Dublin Airport-M1. The aim of the revised layout is to optimise use of lanes to increase throughput. TII and local authorities are erecting new permanent signage to direct traffic where diversions from the M50 are required. The motorway traffic control centre, which oversees incident response, has been enhanced and the number of incident response vehicles on the M50 has been increased.
I will outline the medium-term measures in response to the following question.
I think the Minister will agree that demand management is an important aspect of ensuring we get the best out of the investment that has already been made. Has any consideration been given to a reduced toll or perhaps a period in which no toll would apply, particularly on the West Link section of the M50, to encourage people to travel earlier and later. While I accept the tolling component is an important part of funding works already completed, it is clear that this piece of infrastructure is now unable to meet demand at certain peak times, so the Minister needs to think more radically. Heretofore, the view would have been that an orbital outer route needed to be built. That is not the answer. We have to sweat the asset that is there, with better demand management.
The Minister rightly identified that the big issue is for Transport Infrastructure Ireland to deal with it but he has overall responsibility for policy. It plays into public transport as well. The decision not to proceed with DART underground as quickly as would have been appropriate to deal with some of the demand for vehicular transport could have been resolved by a greater investment in our public transport network.
On demand management, I have now requested that Transport Infrastructure Ireland initiate work on variable speed limits on the M50. This is a traffic management system that is now in place in many other road networks of a comparable size elsewhere, where the speed limit would be reviewed in response to the amount of traffic that is on the road. This would also help with our efforts in respect of lane utilisation. At the moment, nearly one third of traffic travels on the outside lane at peak times as opposed to one fifth at non-peak times. We need to smooth that out to make best use of all lanes that are there.
In respect of public transport, the Deputy is correct that I made the decision not to go ahead with the current design of DART underground because of the €4 billion cost involved. In the nearer term, we are going to be increasing the bus fleet for Dublin Bus by more than 100 next year, we are opening up the Phoenix Park tunnel next summer, we are redesigning the Dublin control centre to expand capacity in Connolly Station and we will have the Luas cross city project open for the summer of the following year.
I thank the Minister. He mentioned the €4 billion investment. An outer orbital route would obviously cost significantly more and we have to continue to invest in transport infrastructure. I take his point on the investment in buses. That has to be done anyway. There is a relatively small increase in overall bus numbers. What we are lacking is an appropriate basic infrastructure for public transport in this city. If the city is to continue to grow in line with expectations, we are heading into a period of exceptional gridlock at peak times, which will retard the growth not just of the city but of the rest of the country.
We are increasing investment in public transport. In the past 18 months, during my time as Minister, Dublin Bus alone has received an additional €93 million to fund new buses. As I have said, for next year, that will directly equate to an additional 100 buses for its fleet to deliver better frequency on the services we have. Alongside that, we have put further measures in place. For example, we are looking forward to the operation of a new Luas line out to Cabra and Phibsborough by 2017. In the run-up to that, I have now made more funding available to Luas to procure longer carriages. We are putting in place many different measures to increase public transport capacity. This is all happening because the faster rate of job creation is increasing Government's ability to invest in these new measures. I appreciate the difficulty faced by people who are commuting around the M50 each day and that is why we are putting in place a series of short-term and medium-term measures on the road itself to increase its efficiency, alongside investing in additional public transport capacity.