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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Jun 1998

Vol. 493 No. 1

Roads (Amendment) Bill, 1997: From the Seanad.

The Dáil went into Committee to consider an amendment from the Seanad.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 1:

Section 3: In page 4, before section 3, the mfollowing new section inserted:

3. —Section 43 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion after subsection (2) of the following subsection:

‘(2A) Notwithstanding subsection (2) and section 46(4), direct access from any adjoining land to a motorway or from the motorway to such land may be granted by the Authority to Córas Iompar Éireann in respect of a light railway—

(a) authorised by a light railway order under section 9 of the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996, or

(b) the subject of an application for a light railway order under section 3 of that Act,

and, accordingly, any such access shall not be a contravention of subsection (2) or section 46(4).'.".

The background to this amendment lies in the intention that the proposed Dublin LRT will cross the sliproads of the M50 motorway at the Red Cow junction on the Naas Road intersection. It is proposed that a special bridge carrying the LRT over the M50 will be constructed running parallel to the roundabout and on a level with the Naas Road; the light railway will cross the top of the M50 sliproads to gain access to and from the bridge.

This proposed design was agreed following consultation between the Dublin Transportation Office, the LRT project team, the NRA and South Dublin County Council. It was agreed that the light railway crossing is feasible and that Luas vehicles would operate within the traffic light system determined by road traffic.

The proposal is based on a DTO report which shows that it is possible to run the LRT line through the interchange without interfering with road traffic. Accordingly, planning and design of the LRT have been carried out on this basis.

Access to the M50 motorway, in the sense in which the layman might understand it, is not envisaged. It has recently come to attention, however, that the light railway might in law be regarded as accessing the motorway in that it is proposed that it will cross the tops of the sliproads to and from the motorway. As is regularly the case, the map accompanying the motorway declaration order shows most of the sliproads to be included in the formal motorway: this is done to avoid access being sought to the motorway from land adjoining the sliproads. In view of the prohibitions in the Roads Act, 1993, on direct access to motorways, it is considered prudent to amend the Act to facilitate the proposal.

The amendment gives the NRA authority to grant direct access to a motorway to CIE in respect of a light railway proposed under the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996. It is important to note that this power to grant direct access will rest with the NRA which has statutory responsibility for the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads. All aspects of the LRT design, including the design at the Naas Road intersection, will be open to detailed consideration as part of the statutory consent procedures to be followed under the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996.

I am prepared to accept the advice the Minister has relayed to the House that, for technical reasons and to make the position doubly sure, it is necessary to include a provision of this nature. Its purpose is to ensure that there are no problems later in relation to the interpretation of access to a motorway. This is a prudent provision. However, the amendment inserts in the Bill a measure which is one part of the detailed planning of the Luas system. I do not intend to outline the various misfortunes of the system but this element deserves more than a passing comment.

The junction at the Red Cow Inn has long been known as the white elephant at the Red Cow. I usually pass there twice a day on my way to and from Dublin and it is one of the greatest disasters of traffic planning around the city. What started as a roundabout became a roundabout with an underpass and then became a roundabout with traffic lights and an underpass. The reason there is a roundabout, an underpass, traffic lights and a railway crossing is that one of the new Dublin authorities has set its face firmly against the idea of providing an overpass at the location.

I was in office at the time and I am aware that the discussion which led to the adoption of that solution was difficult. It illustrated a number of factors. First, despite the existence of the National Roads Authority, we cannot be sure that the authority can get on with the work we want it to do. Second, certain types of prejudice are alive, well and kicking in some local authorities — hence Dublin South County Council's refusal to envisage an overpass in the location. Third, because of this fragmented approach to planning, there will be in engineering and economic terms a seriously sub-optimum solution to the problem of allowing the light rail service to cross the junction.

To the averagely ignorant layman the obvious way to deal with the situation there, which will be further complicated by a railway line crossing a motorway, is to build an overpass to carry traffic travelling from Clondalkin to Dublin. This would separate the different levels of traffic and make the operation of the interchange much easier. However, one of the local authorities has set its face against that solution and has successfully stymied the ideal resolution to the problem.

This shows that the authority which is supposed to regulate and plan for Dublin traffic is a toothless hound. The DTO does not have the power to compel any of the agencies to agree to even the most obvious solution, which is sticking out a mile. One of the parties in Government has twice assassinated a body which could have dealt effectively with Dublin traffic problems because it would have had statutory powers to do so. A Fianna Fáil Government did this in 1987 and the current Administration has also refused to agree to a Dublin traffic authority with statutory powers to deal with various issues, such as this matter. This is a pity.

There was a time when Fianna Fáil Deputies and the few remaining Progressive Democrats Deputies, who were then members of the Fianna Fáil Party, used to be in a high state of indignation about me and some of my colleagues who were engaged in a sport, which they considered illegal, of quango hunting. They thought it was terrible to abolish a quasi-autonomous, non-governmental organisation. Such was their fervour and the mistaken inspiration of their position that when, instead of abolishing quangos, a new body was instituted with specific powers in relation to Dublin traffic, they would not agree to it. Even today, in face of all the evidence and difficulties which have arisen with the organisation of Dublin traffic, they still refuse to put in place a body which has statutory powers to co-ordinate all the various activities which are required to make sense of traffic in Dublin.

The result in this instance is the necessity for this amendment to the Bill. The position at the Red Cow junction is seriously sub-optimum. The solution will work after a fashion but it is much less than the perfect solution which we should be entitled to require. There will be less fluidity in traffic at the junction than is possible with an overpass. There will be more delays in traffic than necessary and the Luas will be delayed at the junction for periods that would be avoided by an overpass. In five years' time, with the continued growth of traffic, this problem will get worse if the Luas is built in that period.

I predict that five years after the Luas is built, if the solution provided for in the amendment is used at the Red Cow interchange, there will be a serious problem in terms of the crossover of the Luas and Dublin bound traffic. This is because the statutory power to implement the conclusion that common sense dictates the solution of traffic problems at that location does not exist.

I will not oppose the amendment, although the solution it is designed to facilitate is much less than is possible. The reason such a solution is not available is that the Government still refuses to acknowledge, despite all the evidence, that there is a need for an authority with statutory powers to carry out all the necessary functions to regulate and co-ordinate action on Dublin traffic. It is obvious that if such an authority existed, there would be a much better resolution of the problem at the Red Cow junction.

In common with Deputy Dukes I will not oppose the amendment from the Seanad. As the Minister explained, it will allow the NRA to give access to light rail to motorways and will avoid doubt about the legal entitlement of the authority to do so.

The Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996, has already been amended by the Roads (Amendment) Bill. This further amendment of the Transport Acts is designed to facilitate the Luas project. However, few people now believe that Luas will be implemented. Are we legislating for reality? It certainly will not take place within the timeframe of the Operational Programme for Transport to avail of the European funding earmarked for a light rail system for Dublin.

There are two questions that arise. Is this pro forma action to give the pretence that Luas will be a reality in the foreseeable future, or is there a firm intention on the Government's part to ensure that the traffic chaos building daily in Dublin is addressed in a comprehensive way, with light rail as an integral part of that response? When will we see that in place?

If the £114 million allocated to light rail development from European funds will not be spent on light rail within the timeframe of the current Operational Programme, by the end of next year, where will that money be spent? I am informed that the advisory committee are to meet tomorrow to discuss this and other matters. The Minister of State has responsibility for the road network, but the funding is earmarked for public transport, and I hope it is spent on public transport projects. Several commend themselves and I am parochial enough to suggest that the rail link between Dublin and Rosslare should be top of the list. It parallels National Route 1, the Euro route, which is regarded as the prime transport artery in the country. If it is the prime road transport artery, it is surely the prime rail transport artery also. The population in Dublin and the east coast is expanding all the time, and it is important not to funnel people to the road system if there are rail alternatives. It would cost £30 million to upgrade the rail track between Rosslare and Dublin. There are 11 restrictions on the rail line at present, and I hope the Minister of State sees that this is public transport money, notwithstanding his responsibility for roads. He will have an input to the expenditure of the European funding, and I hope he ensures that it is divided between the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Department of Public Enterprise. The money should be expended on worthy public transport projects, of which there are many to consider.

Deputy Dukes made valid points on the need for co-ordination in Dublin. The idea behind the Dublin Transportation Office was to bring the various sectors together, such as the local authorities, CIÉ, in its manifestations as Bus Éireann, Bus Átha Cliath and Irish Rail, the Garda and other groups. I do not know if we can say that office is working because it does not have the clout to force solutions. It is supposed to arbitrate, suggest and cajole, but it has no power to act. It must be looked at again. The recent appointment of a director of traffic by Dublin Corporation is another advance, but unless that office has power over Dublin Corporation and other sectors of Dublin's traffic infrastructure, it will prove an impotent post. There are real issues in the transport sphere that Deputy Dukes has identified and which have to be addressed. I support this amendment and I hope the Minister of State responds to my comments.

I thank Deputies for their co-operation and support. The amendment is designed to provide a legal basis for a particular situation, which is the crossing of the top of the slip roads at the Red Cow, and is an enabling provision. The pros and cons of the design of the light rail system at the Red Cow or any other location must be examined in detail at the LRT public inquiry before the Minister for Public Enterprise can make a light rail order. In addition, the National Roads Authority has overall responsibility for the national road network and must also give its consent to a light rail line infringing on a motorway. I am satisfied that these procedures show there is no negative impact on the capacity or safety of the motorway network.

I am aware of concern regarding the increasing levels of traffic on the M50. The design of the interchanges on the N7's heaviest traffic interchanges allow for the provision of a third level interchange which would carry traffic on the N4 and the N7 over the existing M50 roundabouts. The provision of this extra lane and third level interchange will greatly enhance the capacity of the M50 at these locations. The NRA is now carrying out an origin design study which will provide necessary information to enable informed decisions to be taken on these matters and is in discussions with Fingal County Council and the national toll roads in relation to the provision of a second bridge over the Liffey adjacent to the existing facility.

Both Deputies raised general questions relating to Luas and Dublin traffic. I do not propose to go into these issues today. They have already been discussed here and will no doubt be discussed in the future. Regarding EU funding, decisions will be taken in the next few days on the EU money originally intended for Luas. Deputy Dukes referred to the Dublin Traffic Authority, but that is not a matter for today's debate.

Question put and agreed to. Amendment reported.

Agreement to the Seanad amendment is reported to the House and a message will be sent to Seanad Éireann acquainting it accordingly.