Experts predict more bad traffic in Dublin claiming that M50 can't cope
MOTORISTS can expect to spend even more time stuck in traffic in Ireland as the network struggles to cope with an increase in demand, emergency situations and lack of investment in public transport alternatives.
The M50 grinded to a halt on several occasions in recent weeks and has brought the issue of traffic management into sharp focus, as business and transport groups called for better plans to be put in place to deal with emergency situations.
AA Ireland say around 130,000 vehicles use the M50 every day and that number will increase over the coming years as the economy grows.
And recent incidents have shown that when the M50 grinds to a halt, it has a knock-on effect not just in Dublin, but on traffic across Ireland. It also comes at a cost to the economy as its slows down business.
Transport minister Paschal Donohoe announced plans this week to try and ease congestion on the ring road, including introducing variable speed limits on the M50.
While the plans may have some benefit, experts say they will barely be papering over the cracks and motorists can expect to be stuck in traffic for longer periods over the coming years.
Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs for AA Ireland, said the number of motorists using the M50 will only increase.
“Lots of those people don’t particularly want to be there. They’re there because they don’t have alternatives. That’s the key difference in Dublin compared to other cities – the relative lack of public transport, not some form of Californian addiction to cars.”
He said variable speed limits on the M50 are potentially a good idea.
“It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but when a motorway is congested, it can be possible to get more traffic flowing through it at a lower speed than higher speed. Despite what some people seem to think, it is potentially a useful idea. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”
However, he said the move would only be papering over the cracks.
“You can’t make too big a claim for it because no matter how you tweak things, you are always going to struggle to get a litre into a pint glass.”
He said one thing that should be definitively ruled out is increasing tolls on the M50, which was suggested by the National Roads Authority earlier this year.
“It’s possible to set a toll so high you can play golf on the M50, but it has enormous collateral consequences on other parts of the network,” he pointed out.
He said the rest of the city would suffer serious traffic problems if people were priced out of using the M50.
A spokesman for the Transport Infrastructure Ireland, formerly the National Roads Authority, said this week that proposals to increase tolls have been rejected by the Government.
While that may be good news for motorists, Conor Faughnan said that unless politicians invest heavily in public transport we will be spending longer and longer in traffic jams,
“The solution long-term has to be based around providing realistic alternatives to car-use, or we’re going to strangle on our own traffic,” he said.
“That means significant investment in infrastructure, public transport projects, rail etc. We’ve got to spend money doing that or we’ll never in the long run solve Dublin’s traffic problem.”
However, he is not overly optimistic that politicians will agree to spend big on long-term major transport project.
“Politics and politicians have a certain half-life and the cynic would say no minister who announces the spend gets the plaudits. It will be his successor in five or 10 years who gets to cut the ribbon,” he said.
However, such short-term thinking by politicians in the past has resulted in the traffic problem we have today.
“Progress is painfully slow. I’m at this 20 years now with the AA and over that time I’ve seen Dublin with some of the finest public transport in the world – on PowerPoint displays,” he said.
“While the improvements we have made have been very good, Ireland is still some way behind most developed economies in the world in terms of transport infrastructure.
“Back when the tiger was roaring, what a pity we didn’t build 12 Luas lines in Dublin and more in Galway, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. We have never built infrastructure we’ve regretted.”
He said cynics would say politicians “act like magpies and go after what’s currently shiniest”.
Unfortunately, the long-term, planning-based systematic approach tends to gets less attention as it should.
Road Haulage Association President Verona Murphy branded the transport minister’s plans to introduce variable speed limits on the M50 as a “PR exercise”.
“It is just to say we’re doing something. They could do something more constructive. There is currently a speed limit of 100kmh, but there’s no policing of that.
“They’re talking about speed limits to stop the traffic arriving together. It’s an absolute load of rubbish.”
She also said Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) needs to sit down with emergency services and other bodies to have an incident plan in place for major incidents on the road networks.
“The guards and fire brigade currently manage it. It’s absolutely insane that a structure such as the TII has been put in place and they don’t have an incident plan in place.
“It’s worrying and it has the potential to happen every day of the week,” added Murphy.
She said other proposals, such as increasing tolls on the M50, won’t solve the problem.
“They’re making proposals to bring in extra tolls and putting up gantries to facilitate tolls. All that is five years away before they’ll get anything done. What they need to do is put a serious incident plan in place.”
She said the decision by the emergency services to close the Port Tunnel on both sides after a truck overturned had a major impact.
“That was the fire brigade’s call. It affects a lot of industry. Trucks have a certain amount of time to deliver their goods and if they’re stuck on the M50 for four hours, you have the potential to be prosecuted for that because you’re outside of the regulation.”
She said there needs to be serious discussion about how to manage the situation.
“It needs debate, action and several parties to be involved, not the guards on their own.
“TII should certainly have an input. The upgrade of the M50 is not going to come in time.”