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 Header Item Capital Expenditure Programme (Continued)
 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Road Tolls

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 953 No. 2

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan] There is an urgency now which is due to the situation whereby it was not possible to arrange for expenditure of the necessary nature in the past six, seven or eight years, simply because there was no money. To what extent does the Minister see himself in a position to address those issues as they arise?

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe It is going to be challenging, because we have many different competing demands. We are working hard to see how we can identify new funding. We have already made progress on this by the identification of a further €2 billion between now and 2021 and 2022 and we are engaged in other pieces of work, for example, with the European Investment Bank, to see if there are additional ways of funding the infrastructure to which the Deputy refers.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Business of Dáil

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I have an announcement for the information of the House. The following Members have been appointed to serve on the Special Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Representing the Government party and groups are Deputies Bernard J. Durkan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Hildegarde Naughton and Kate O'Connell. Representing the Fianna Fáil party are Deputies James Browne, Lisa Chambers, Billy Kelleher and Anne Rabbitte. Representing the Sinn Féin party are Deputies Jonathan O'Brien and Louise O'Reilly. The Labour Party is represented by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. Solidarity-People Before Profit is represented by Deputy Ruth Coppinger. Independents 4 Change is represented by Deputy Clare Daly. The Rural Independent Group is represented by Deputy Mattie McGrath. The Social Democrats-Green Party group is represented by Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Topical Issue Debate

Road Tolls

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I welcome the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross. The question of tolls and their impact on the local environment, businesses and for local people on social visits crossing north-south from my town and into east Meath, and the opposite way as well, is a hugely important issue for people in my constituency. The real issue here is that nobody objects, in my view, to the main toll booth at Gormanston. Everybody accepts that that is a national primary route and that one should pay the toll there. There are significant charges on the slip roads into Drogheda, for example for somebody who wants to travel from Tullyallen north of the town to the railway station or to cross down to Laytown or Bettystown. It is €19 a week, which is basically €1,000 a year. That is a huge penalty for a local, short journey.

Congestion is an issue. I have a letter here from Transport Infrastructure Ireland and it says that when it was initially put in, it was to protect the residents of Drogheda from rat-running that would occur due to traffic wishing to avoid the main toll plaza at Balgeen. The opposite has happened. I hope the Minister, Deputy Ross, visits us shortly and I would be delighted to host him and show him. As one comes through the village of Julianstown, there is significant traffic there for 20 of the 24 hours in the day. For all of the business working day, from 6 a.m. to maybe 8 p.m., there is a constant, unending stream of traffic. They are people who are avoiding the toll and coming to live in east Meath in many cases. The other issue is at the north side of Drogheda, at Mell, there are the same huge traffic volumes and congestion. I think the impact of the local tolls is unnecessary and is unacceptable to the people. I ask the Minister to address that issue in his reply.

The other facts that arise include the income for local rates. In other words, the tolls pay a rate to Meath County Council and Louth County Council. Meath County Council gets a sum of €484,000 per year from the rateable valuation of the tolls, whereas Louth County Council gets a value of €218,000 per annum. That money goes to the county councils and none of it is spent on the town most directly affected - the town of Drogheda - by this imposition on citizens wishing to travel north to south in their town. The Minister needs to come to Drogheda to meet the councils and to encourage a significant investment in the local road infrastructure, which has never been upgraded since the very significant volume of traffic increased as a result of the imposition of the tolls.

In particular, Julianstown is in a very difficult and serious situation. It needs a proper and effective bypass. I believe that this money should be spent proportionately over a number of years on improving all of the road infrastructure in east Meath, particularly around the Platin factory, which is very dangerous. It is a speed trap and there have been a number of deaths on the main road itself. The R152, where it comes from the intersection south of Drogheda going in through the Platin Road, is fine until it comes to the Meath boundary and then one is back to the road network as it was 40 years ago. That is a significant issue that must be addressed and I will talk about it in my second period of time.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross): Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising this issue, which I know from experience is greatly important in the area, and has caused a great deal of dissatisfaction for many of his colleagues and himself.

This is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. I am happy to reiterate the current position and to be as helpful as I possibly can regarding the M1 slip toll at Drogheda. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. Within its annual budget, the planning, design and implementation of individual road projects, such as the N4, is a matter for TII under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Furthermore, the statutory power to levy tolls on national roads, to make toll by-laws and to enter into agreements relating to tolls on national roads is vested in TII under Part V of the Roads Act 1993 as amended. The contractual arrangements relating to M1 tolls are therefore matters for TII. There is no provision under the legislation under which I, as Minister, could review the toll charges on the M1. As the Deputy may be aware, the issue of M1 slip road tolls has been brought to my attention on a number of occasions by various stakeholders, including Drogheda & District Chamber of Commerce and local Deputies, including some of Deputy O'Dowd's colleagues.

Arising from a parliamentary question from Deputy Munster last year, I undertook to raise the issue of the tolls on the Drogheda slip roads at a meeting with TII that took place in early August 2016. Following this meeting, TII briefed my Department on the 2002 toll scheme and the findings of a 2012 study of the implications of the removal of the tolls at the north-facing slip roads at M1 junction 9. In the 2012 study, two scenarios were considered. The first involved removing ramp tolls only and the second involved removing ramp tolls and increasing the mainline toll. The study concluded that significant levels of additional traffic would divert to local routes such as the R152 through Duleek and the R132 through Julianstown, with thousands more vehicles per day affecting the safety, quality of life and commercial viability of these communities.

In addition, both scenarios would have substantial financial implications because TII would be contractually required to compensate the public private partnership, PPP, company for losses arising out of any change. Under the first scenario, it was estimated that between €6 million and €7 million would have to be paid to the PPP company in the first year, increasing each year to 2034. Under the second scenario, given the higher rates of diversion off the M1, it was estimated that mainline tolls would have to be increased by between 40% and 60%. It is important to point out that the aim of the Donore ramp toll plazas was to mitigate possible rat-running with adverse impacts on local communities. In response to concerns expressed about the possible impact on business in Drogheda, the approved toll scheme allows vehicles to exit the motorway, having paid a toll, and re-enter within three hours, with no further charge. I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy and I am happy to forward a copy of the briefing that TII provided on the matter.

The Deputy is not alone, but I understand that what I have outlined is the current situation. It certainly leaves causes for discontent, to which the Deputy referred.

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