A weekly column published in
The Northside People & The Southside People
22nd May 2002
Ireland needs a motorway system
Generally Im opposed to any more road space for cars. In Dublin, we have all the cars we need and if there is a single cent spare it should be spent on public transport.
But once you stray across the M50 a completely different picture emerges. Ireland is not a small place, contrary to the national inferiority complex. It is the third biggest island in Europe with a small population mainly scattered around the coast. The vast majority of people on this island live within ten miles of salt water.
But to get to see each other we have to travel through the country on roads which ensure progress at an average speed of 40 mph. That is when there is no tailbacks, no weekend traffic and no towns in the way. Like when there is no football matches, no weddings, no funerals, no slow drivers, no accidents, no trucks and no adverse weather conditions. Like nearly never.
What is required is a motorway skeleton network across Ireland to guarantee journey times.
And that is what is proposed by the Government. So where, might you ask, is the problem?
The first problem is that the plan is meeting almighty opposition in the heartland of the country. The second, probably bigger problem, is the plan to use public/private partnerships and tolls (Ill come back to this another day - when Im having another go at the West-Link disaster).
A group has sprung up to oppose the building of motorways called the Campaign for Sensible Transport - CaST - (They have a fantastic website which anyone with an interest in the subject should visit - www.sensibletransport.com).
Now CaST have a very valid case.
They dont want the country disfigured with motorways. Understandable.
They dont want rural communities sundered. I agree.
They want resources aimed towards public transport. Im with them there.
They want the national roads plan restricted to those areas identified in the 1998 National Road Needs Study. They are wrong.
Like it or not, public transport cannot possibly fulfil the matrix of journeys made across Ireland. You cant have a train going to everyones house. So private personal transport (regardless of how it is powered) will play a huge part in transport in this country.
So we must deal with it by providing reasonable capacity for heavily used routes across the country.
At the moment, large volumes of cars go through towns and villages on their way from Dublin to Cork, for example. Everyone, even CaST, recognises that this is not good for either motorist or villager.
In the scenario put forward by CaST, motorists will travel from by-pass to by-pass on two lane, two way roads with all their capacity and safety constraints.
This might save some people and countryside from virgin motorway but it will still involve a lot of new road building. It will ensure that traffic remains close to towns and it will mean a constant deterioration in quality of life for the considerable number of people who live along major routes.
New motorways, on the other hand, can be sited away from populations as much as possible. I accept that somebody will have to live near them but this will involve fewer numbers.
A new motorway can be designed to minimise dislocation of communities and intrusion into the environment. And the building of new motorways is less disruptive than upgrading existing routes.
The National Road Needs Study looked at the needs of each section of route and suggested the appropriate road type for that section. But the politicians who decided to go ahead and build a motorway network were looking at the bigger picture and I think they were right.
When I say skeleton, I mean skeleton. There is no call for motorways all over the place.
But we need to build a system that will serve us well over the next 30-50 years. To abandon the motorway programme now would be to commit the next generation to the third-rate infrastructure we have to put up with now.
Tolls are completely unnecessary
Some people put forward the idea of tolls as an environment tax. That tolls are related to use and therefore are in accord with the polluter pays principle.
But we already have road user taxes. They are called fuel taxes. The more you use, the more you pay.
Tolls are incredibly inefficient. They cost a fortune to operate, they slow traffic and they make super-profits for private operators who contribute nothing to the greater transport system.