M50 Motorway now at ‘breaking point’
The country's busiest motorway is now at the point of "breakdown" due to the sheer number of vehicles using it every day.
Almost 159,000 vehicles are using Dublin's M50 on a daily basis - up 6,300 on the same period of last year.
Rush hour traffic now lasts a full eight hours each day, with the morning peak 7am to 10am, and evening peak 3pm to 7pm.
Commuters are being forced to leave for work an hour earlier because there are so many cars, trucks and buses using the road.
Several incidents caused traffic chaos in the morning peak last week, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the system is unable to cope.
New data from Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) shows that every month there are 120 'incidents' including breakdowns. Of these, 50 are collisions.
An analysis of traffic data supplied by TII for the Irish Independent gives a snapshot in time on how the M50 is faring as the economy shakes off the recession.
It based the analysis on volumes on the first Wednesday of October in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, and shows numbers are steadily growing year-on-year.
On the first Wednesday of October in 2013, just over 133,345 vehicles used the road. The figure has increased by 19pc for the same day of 2016.
"It's reached a point of breakdown," a TII spokesman said.
"The consequence is journey times become less reliable, and very long. To overcome that unreliability, people start leaving earlier so they don't get caught by the unreliability."
Volumes were captured using traffic counters installed between the N4 at Lucan, and the Red Cow.
The data shows:
The morning peak used to run between 7am and 9am, but now extends to 10am.
People are leaving up to an hour earlier to get to work. Since 2013, the numbers using the road between 6am and 7am has increased by 72pc to 6,591.
Numbers are up 13pc between 7am and 8am, have dropped only slightly by 2pc between 8am and 9am, but have risen 11pc between 9am and 10am.
The evening peak now extends all the way from 3pm to 7pm. In 2013, 40,326 vehicles used the road during these times. Some 45,138 (up 12pc) do so today.
The bulk of trips are made between 7am and 7pm - in 2013, some 108,350 journeys were made. This compares with 122,506 (up 13pc) today.
TII sources said the data showed 'peak spreading', meaning people were leaving earlier in the day to reach their destination. While the road was serving its "strategic function" there were issues at certain times of the day.
The M50 was upgraded in 2010 at a cost of €1bn, and cannot be further expanded as there is no land available along the route.
A 2014 study on M50 traffic volumes revealed that 'safe operational capacity' was being exceeded at peak times on some sections of the road including the M1 connection with the north, the N4 to Lucan and the west and M7 to Cork and Kildare.
TII has taken steps to improve traffic flows, including stationing response teams close to the Red Cow - and it takes an average of 11 minutes for a team to arrive at the scene of an incident.
Last week's collisions caused delays of up to an hour, partly due to the number of vehicles on the road.
TII will be introducing variable speed limits from 2019, where motorists will be warned of a serious incident through changeable message signs.