More tolls on M50 would push 40,000 cars elsewhere and cause chaos - minister
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe has ruled out the introduction of multi-point tolling on the M50 for fear it could shift a staggering 40,000 car journeys every day into adjacent communities.
In an exclusive interview, Mr Donohoe admitted that commuters endured "chaos" on the M50 last year following a series of crashes.
The huge backlogs that often occur on the country's busiest motorway have led to calls for a series of radical new traffic-calming measures, such as multi-point tolling or congestion charges.
However, Mr Donohoe told the Herald he was not prepared to bring in such measures in the short-term, amid concerns it would have a detrimental affect on communities located off the M50.
"I won't be bringing in multi-point tolling or congestion charging until we have step-changed the public transport capacity of the city," Mr Donohoe said.
The minister admitted that analysis estimated that bringing in multi-point tolling on the M50 would reduce traffic flows by a fifth.
But he warned that these journeys would be "reallocated" into roads that don't have the necessary capacity.
"So what we would end up doing is displacing around 35,000 to 40,000 journeys per day into roads that are not designed or do not have the capacity to deal with that.
"So, we would end up shifting the problem, as opposed to eliminating it.
"Before we get to a point that a decision like that would be reviewed or looked at we would have to have a substantially, massively-improved public transport capacity - which is why something like Metro North is so important.
"It would be shifting the bones of 40,000 car journeys a day into communities and roads are adjacent to the M50," he said.
He added that such a move would also create road-safety issues for communities.
Mr Donohoe admitted that he had sympathy for commuters left extremely frustrated by congestion on the M50.
"Across a two-week period last year, we had three tragic incidents on the M50 that had a huge effect on the ability of the M50 itself to operate," he said.
"If something really bad happened on the M50, most of the time, the consequences of that were confined to the M50 itself.
"The very big change that has now happened is that if something really bad happens on the M50 it is now a city-wide - and increasingly a county-wide - problem, as opposed to 'just' something that was happening on the M50."
Stressing that the gardai need to do very important forensic work at the scene of crashes, Mr Donohoe said he wanted to explore arming the force with better equipment so that collisions can be dealt with more speedily.
Mr Donohoe added that he had asked Transport Infrastructure Ireland to examine what sort of equipment could assist gardai at crash scenes.
Within political circles, Mr Donohoe is tipped to remain in the Department of Transport if he retains his seat in the General Election.
The first-time TD is thought highly of by the Taoiseach and has been credited for his response to a series of penalty-points controversies and industrial relations disputes since taking up office.
But the minister's planned response to dealing with issues such as congestion on the M50 is far from radical.
Central to his plan is the introduction of variable speed limits designed to improve traffic flows and reduce congestion.
The limits involve the upper limit being reduced at peak times. This helps maintain average speeds across the length of the motorway, with less crossing and risk of collisions.
The other measures aimed at reducing traffic numbers on the M50 include:
◊ Improved merging layouts, which gives motorists more time to enter the motorway at junctions;
◊ The roll-out of congestion bus routes (special routes on lanes that open for buses during rush hour). For example, a new route between West Tallaght and University College Dublin;
◊ The completion of the Luas Cross City by 2017;
◊ Significant progress on Metro North.
Mr Donohoe admitted that Metro North would take a number of years to complete given the scale of the project.
It will deliver 10,000 journeys an hour, according to the minister.
But he said that, as part of his long-term vision for commuting in Dublin, there would be a requirement for several new park-and-ride facilities.
"For example, look at the park-and-ride facility that is there at the moment across the corner from the Red Cow roundabout.
"How we can do more of those adjacent to the M50 in the years to come will be a big part of how we respond to what is there," the minister said.
"Where I see that fitting in is, for example, the congestion bus routes.
"What I'd like to see is if we could have those facilities at points in which people are commuting into the city from Kildare and Meath and communities like that, so people have the opportunity to complete the last phase of that on public transport."
Meanwhile, Mr Donohoe has said the Government cannot intervene in next month's planned strike action by Luas workers.
Workers are due to hold one- or two-day stoppages in early February - a move that will cause widespread disruption in Mr Donohoe's own Dublin Central constituency.
The drivers voted emphatically for industrial action in a row over pay, arguing that it has been "stagnant" in recent years and is now significantly below that of drivers in Irish Rail.
Their demands, if met, would see Transdev, the company operating the Luas, pay drivers €20,000 extra each.
That would total €30m over five year, it is understood.
Transdev last night declined to comment on the matter.
Mr Donohoe said he supports the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court in its efforts to find a resolution.