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The State’s Transport Policy

  
Andrew McGrath

 
The ¤1 billion being poured into upgrades on the M50 will have no impact whatever on congestion; this is conceded by the Environmental Impact Statement itself. The projections of up to 200,000 vehicles per day, by the time the upgrades are completed in 2008, takes no account of increased traffic from motorways such as the M2 and M3 through Meath, and also assumes that other transport projects, such as the Dublin Metro, will help to alleviate congestion. In other words, the M50 is a prime example of a scheme that has been designed to fail. It serves the single, short term objective of creating mass suburbanization and sprawl around Dublin. The proposed “M50 relief road” that will cut deep into Meath also serves the same purpose, the needless expansion outward of Dublin. 
 
It is clear that the last item on the list of priorities is those taxpayers who have to foot the ¤38 billion price tag. Statements by Government that the roads programme will promote balanced regional development are thoroughly disingenuous, as it has been devised almost single-mindedly to do the opposite, and thus far it has enjoyed great success. In other words, it is not an economic project at all, but a political one. To be certain of this point, one only need look at the NRA’s 1998 National Road Needs Study. Compiled with the aid of a French toll consulting company, it found that the numbers travelling by car between the main cities were low. It recommended that existing roads were to be upgraded to motorways, dual carriageways or high-quality single-lane routes, with bypasses to relieve congestion in towns. The total cost of this scheme was budgeted at ¤5.6 billion. Shortly after Noel Dempsey launched the report, he came up with the idea that five motorways should be built, radiating outward from Dublin to all the other regions in the country. This idea, with no research to support it, was then packaged as the National Development Plan, even though neither the Government nor the NRA had any idea what the actual cost would be.
 
In addition to this, the NRA adopted a scheme that involved building motorways alongside the existing roads for which they are supposed to provide relief, a scheme which no other country with experience in motorway planning has seen fit to adopt, and for good reason. It makes little sense from an economic point of view: because these motorways are built alongside the existing routes, they are inevitably built over greenfield, at far greater expense than the cost of upgrades. Also, a motorway is only justified by traffic flows of in excess of 50,000 vehicles per day. Given that a decision was adopted at the political level to build motorways even though the traffic volumes do not justify it, the roads programme is a transparent and blatant waste of money. While the Private Finance Initiative scheme under which “major infrastructure” is being provided allows, on the face of it, for less expenditure by the taxpayer in the short term, the contractors are in reality being handed a blank cheque. Even though the State shares in a percentage of the tolls, the contractor can invoke the slightest pretext to raise tolls over the duration of the toll allocation (often 30 years), effectively double taxation. Also, because the State, outside of its public relations statements, acknowledges that the roads programme is expensive in inverse proportion to any advantage gained from it, it allows multiple taxation on the same stretch of road. For example, the M3 motorway, under construction beside the N3 in Meath, will be tolled twice, and a Government-commissioned consultant's report recommends multiple tolling of the M50. The inevitable result of the policy of building “relief motorways” alongside existing roads will be drivers using the existing roads to avoid paying tolls.
 
In short, the largely fictional National Development Plan has turned out to amount to pouring huge amounts of public money into motorways that are essentially privately run, redundant, and aimed likewise to encourage dependence on cars and rezoning of agricultural land for low-density, ill-considered development in the middle of nowhere. The upside is that the State can state in public relations releases how much money has gone into “transport”, while being relieved of the burdensome responsibility of providing a well-planned and -run public transport system focused on railways.
 
 
© The Tara Foundation, April 2007