National Development Plan: Discussion

Apologies have been received from Senator Ned O'Sullivan and Deputy Joe Carey.

The purpose of our session is to examine the national development plan, NDP, with a view to making a submissions to Review to Renew, the public consultation element of the plan.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Peter Walsh, chief executive officer; Mr. Nigel O'Neill, director of capital programme; Mr. Pat Maher, director of network management; and Mr. Sean O'Neill, director of corporate communications, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. I also welcome Ms Anne Graham, chief executive officer, and Mr. Hugh Creegan, director of transport planning and investment and deputy chief executive officer, National Transport Authority, NTA. Notice of this meeting was given at short notice partially due to the Covid restrictions that are in place at the moment but nevertheless I thank them all for attending.

All witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identified person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction. For witnesses attending remotely, outside of the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present does. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of their domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence they give.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I remind members that they are allowed to participate in this meeting only if they are physically located in the Leinster House complex. In this regard I also ask all members, prior to making their contributions to the meeting, to confirm that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus. For the information of anyone watching this meeting online, Oireachtas Members and witnesses are accessing the meeting remotely. Only I, as Chairman, and the staff essential to the running to the meeting are physically present in the committee room. Due to the unprecedented circumstances of Covid and the large number of people attending the meeting remotely, I ask everyone to bear with us should any technical issues arise.

I call Mr. Walsh, TII, to make his opening statement and he has five minutes.

Mr. Peter Walsh

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for their invitation to attend today.

I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Nigel O'Neill, director of capital programme. I understand the committee wishes to discuss the NDP, having regard to Review to Renew, the public consultation. Before I report to the committee on progress in the delivery of the elements of the NDP that TII is responsible for, I will briefly describe the duties assigned to TII through legislation. The National Roads Authority, NRA, operating as TII since 2015, was established under the Roads Act 1993. It is the general duty of the authority to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads. In 2015, the NRA was merged with the Rail Procurement Agency, RPA, and the Roads Act 2015 added the function of securing the provision of, or providing, such light railway and metro railway infrastructure as may be determined by the NTA. I make the distinction between these two responsibilities of TII to explain why I will provide information to the committee today on national roads projects but that for the MetroLink and Luas light rail projects for which TII is the sponsoring agency I will defer to the NTA as the approving authority.

The national road network is 5,400 km in length, which is approximately 6% of the public road network, but it carries 50% of all traffic and 90% of all goods transported. TII works in partnership with the 31 local authorities, which are roads authorities, to fulfil its duties and the arrangements include 11 national roads offices funded by TII and staffed by the local authorities. In 2018, the NDP mandated the progression of 43 major projects that would address deficiencies in the national road network across 29 local authorities. Since then, three have been completed and a further two have been delivered through a series of minor projects. For the remaining 38 projects I have provided the committee with a booklet that describes each project and gives an update on the progress achieved to date.

The delivery of national road projects is progressing well for the 12 projects that had planning approval in place at the commencement of the plan. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of staff in the Department of Transport, TII, local authorities, national roads offices and civil engineering designers and contractors in achieving this progress. During the past year, contractors have produced and adhered to standard operating procedures that have created and maintained safe working environments. Their achievements in this regard allowed for road construction to recommence on 18 May after a seven-week shutdown. Productivity has been impaired but very significant progress has been achieved, and continues, on these critical transport infrastructure projects.

On the matter of challenges to progress, progression of projects through the planning approval process has become slower in recent years. The time spent in the planning process and the judicial review process has extended the delivery timeline for some projects by several years. The restrictions required to combat the spread of Covid-19 have further interrupted the planning and judicial processes.

I refer to TII’s engagement with the Review to Renew consultation. In response to a request from the Department of Transport, TII made a comprehensive submission in December 2020. The submission included all national road projects in the current NDP. In addition, TII requested that consideration be given to ten projects of regional importance, six bus priority projects which would be developed on the national primary radial roads in the greater Dublin area and four programmes of works to be focused on the national secondary road network. TII has also proposed the development of a national cycleway network to safely connect urban areas.

Finally, TII has recommended four actions by Government to assist in the delivery of a new NDP. They are a commitment to a steady programme of projects, multi-annual funding commitments for steady state investment and projects, measures to achieve shorter timelines for planning and regulatory approvals including faster delivery of judgements in judicial reviews and an allocation of reasonable levels of resourcing to public sector bodies with responsibilities for implementation and statutory and regulatory approval.

I am happy to take questions from members and if I do not have information immediately to hand relating to a question, I will revert back to the committee in writing. I thank the members for their attention.

Ms Anne Graham

I thank the Chairman and the committee members for the invitation to attend. I understand that the committee wishes to focus on the NDP review having regard to Review to Renew, the public consultation element of the plan. To assist me in dealing with the committee's subsequent questions, I am joined by Mr. Hugh Creegan, deputy CEO with the authority.

The NTA remit is primarily concerned with the planning, development and funding of sustainable transport modes, that is, public transport, cycling and walking. At a national level, the NTA has responsibility for securing the provision of bus and rail services. This includes the provision of subsidised services through directly awarded contracts with Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann, and publicly tendered contracts for bus services across the State with a number of operators. The authority is also responsible for light rail services, which we procure jointly with TII.

The NTA regulates and licenses public bus passenger services, which operate without subsidy from the State. We also manage the rural transport programme, Local Link, on behalf of the Department of Transport. The authority also regulates the provision of small public service vehicle services.

The authority manages the capital investment programme for public transport, cycling and walking in the greater Dublin area and funds the transport operators and local authorities for approved projects. It also manages a similar capital investment programme for the regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford on behalf of the Department of Transport and we manage the national accessibility programme.

Within the greater Dublin area, the NTA has a greater depth of functions. The authority's role covers not only public transport capital investment and provision of services but also securing greater integration between land use and transport planning. The authority's statutory Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035 sets out the key transport projects that are required to be delivered to provide for the growth in travel demand by sustainable modes. This strategy is required by statute to be renewed every six years and the first review of the strategy has been commenced by the authority. This strategy must align with all current Government policy on sustainability and climate action.

The NTA has worked in partnership with a number of local authorities in Ireland's cities to prepare transport-related strategies or implement transport-related projects. The Galway transport strategy was developed by Galway City Council and Galway County Council in partnership with the authority. The transport strategy for the Cork metropolitan area was completed by the NTA in partnership with the relevant Cork local authorities. The transport strategies for the metropolitan areas of Limerick and Shannon, and separately Waterford, are under development and are due to be completed later this year. It is our view that investment in transport projects in the metropolitan areas should be guided by Government policy and the recommendations in the relevant transport strategy.

The National Development Plan 2018–2027 includes significant developments such as the BusConnects programme, the MetroLink and a DART expansion programme, as well as other important public transport, walking and cycling projects that will assist in meeting the demand for sustainable transport and our obligations to reduce carbon emissions. These projects continue to be relevant to meet the Government’s long-term overarching strategy to make Ireland a better country for us all.

Project Ireland 2040 is underpinned by a shared set of goals or national strategic outcomes, NSOs, for every community across the country. The work of the NTA supports all NSOs but, in particular, compact growth, enhanced regional accessibility, strengthened rural economies and communities, sustainable mobility and transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society.

The national climate policy position establishes the national objective of achieving a transition to a competitive, low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. The provision of a significant investment plan for sustainable transport is a key objective in meeting that goal. Public transport capital infrastructure is very largely used for the provision of State subvented public transport services and, therefore, there is a strong link between expanded infrastructure investment and an increased need for more current funding for the provision of additional services using that infrastructure. It will be a particular priority, in line with the Department of Transport's strategic investment framework for land transport, SIFLT, analysis, to reverse escalating congestion problems to secure a significant improvement in transport service to the public.

The authority has commenced a number of sustainable transport projects to be delivered as part of the current NDP across the five cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford to provide additional sustainable travel options to complement increased capacity and faster high-quality public transport in the cities. These will include traffic management, bus priority and other smarter travel projects, along with new urban cycling and walking routes to allow transport infrastructure to function more effectively and relieve congestion.

The authority recognises that additional funding beyond that set out in the current NDP is required to meet the objectives of the transport strategies, those that are developed and those in development. However, those strategies have a longer timeframe than that envisaged by the NDP review. The authority looks forward to supporting the Department of Transport in assessing any additional sustainable transport projects to be included in the NDP review.

I am happy to answer any queries that arise.

As per the request from the Chairman, I confirm that I am in the Leinster House complex. I thank Ms Graham and Mr. Walsh for their opening statements. I have a great deal to say to both of them, but it is probably important that I commence with my questions to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, regarding the review of the national development plan.

I represent the constituency of Cork East, which is a large geographical area in Cork county. From the point of view of the current national development plan, we were very badly let down in terms of the level of investment in Cork county as a whole and in the focus it received when this document was being drawn up. I say this in the context that the national development plan excludes the upgrade of the N25 road between Cork city and Waterford city. I am currently dealing with serious congestion issues at Castlemartyr village in east Cork and at Killeagh, where in excess of 20,000 vehicles per day are travelling down the main streets, in particular in Castlemartyr village, and multiple metres of tailbacks running out of that village. This needs to be addressed. This should have been done long ago and it is now a major political priority for me. It is a significant project that needs to happen under the review of the NDP. It should be included as a white box scheme when the new national development plan is being finalised.

From the perspective of the transport of goods and services, the Rosslare connection is becoming increasingly important for goods and services heading to the Continent via Rosslare to Europe. We must prioritise the upgrade of the corridor along the south of the country. In terms of economic development, Waterford county and some parts of east Cork, in particular Youghal, are economically disadvantaged areas. Prioritising this particular region of Ireland should be more important than some of the projects TII has prioritised up to now. There has been significant investment in the constituencies of Wexford while projects such as the upgrade of the N25 at Castlemartyr and Killeagh and the north ring road in Cork were shelved. This is not good enough. We must work to address these issues as soon as possible. These are critically important projects. I would like increased focus on Cork county. It is deserving of that focus.

Another issue worth highlighting is the enormous efforts of Cork County Council, one of the largest local authorities in the country, in regard to the upgrade of the road on and off Cobh island - Great Island - where the connecting road infrastructure is below average. Although there is a rail connection and an excellent bus service, private and public, it cannot be denied that road access to Cobh is significantly underdeveloped and over capacity. It is being restrained by very old road infrastructure, particularly the bridge at Belvelly. Unfortunately, the local authority is not in a position to pay for the upgrade of that road which is expected to come in at approximately €100 million. The council is seeking the reclassification of this road as a national road. The top priorities in Cork for the local authority from a roads point of view is the addressing of these issues, which are matters for TII. They cannot be done by the local authority because of the cost.

Even if one looks at the schemes that are available in terms of giving funding to local authorities to deal with an issue such as a new bridge at Belvelly and upgrading the Cobh access road, the schemes that are usually available come in at around €60 million to €100 million for the entire country, but that individual scheme will require about €100 million overall. It shows there is a lot of scope for improvement in terms of the interaction between Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and local authorities where there is a requirement for new national roads or roads classification, which is quite important.

I thank Ms Graham for her attendance. She is probably highly aware of who I am at this point from my work on raising the issues in regard to Expressway inadequacies and the National Transport Authority’s role in regard to subsidised bus routes and how the pricing structures are completely out of balance, which I highlighted in particular with reference to Youghal town some time ago through Deputy MacSharry. I have to say I am not satisfied with the current subsidised bus routes under the control of the NTA in Cork. I am thinking of areas like the Jack Lynch tunnel and the south ring road in Cork, densely populated areas around Mahon, Cork University Hospital and the universities, for example, and the employment hubs at Ringaskiddy, and how they are connected up to major residential towns throughout County Cork. It has to be said that very little is being done to address the particular opportunity to cut down on traffic congestion on the South Ring Road by allowing metropolitan areas like Carrigtwohill, Glounthaune, Midleton and Fermoy, and perhaps Mitchelstown as well, to use public transport services to access parts of the Cork South-Central constituency at places like Mahon Point and other employment hubs, retail hubs and residential hubs, as well as education. That is a very important issue in Cork that has not been addressed and it is causing havoc on the South Ring Road.

The consequence, of course, is that TII is spending an extraordinarily large amount of money on upgrading the Dunkettle interchange and the Jack Lynch tunnel. We need to see an integrated transport service, which is important. Otherwise, we will only end up in a similar situation in another two decades when the Dunkettle interchange is finally completed, which will be a good thing for the county, but it could be over capacity at some point in the future. I am strongly of the view that we have to prioritise this.

With regard to other projects that need consideration from the NTA, one is expanding the green zone fare area around Cork County. Cork is the second largest city in the Republic.

Sorry, I am conscious of time. Has the Deputy questions to ask of the witnesses?

Yes, I do. This is one important question and I will finish on this. I ask Ms Graham whether the NTA has any intention of expanding the green zone area. It is important that we view that as a project of importance. Obviously, it will have a huge determination on how many people are utilising public transport. Has the NTA plans to expand the green zone fare area in Cork and could Ms Graham confirm that?

Ms Anne Graham

We currently do not have any intention of extending the green zone in Cork but it will be reviewed as part of BusConnects Cork, which will be kicking off now and looking at the network of services for the Cork city area. As part of that, we can consider the appropriate fares associated with that.

At this stage, it is not possible to reduce any of our fares in any location around the country because of the impact of Covid on our fare revenue. As a result, the Government has had to put significant additional funding into our subsidised services in order to keep them going. At this time, it is not appropriate to reduce fares in any location but we can consider them as part of the BusConnects network review, which will be starting very shortly.

Has Mr. Walsh any information on the N25 project, the North Ring Road in Cork or the Cobh road?

Mr. Peter Walsh

There is a €100,000 allocation to Cork County Council in regard to Castlemartyr to undertake studies this year. The Deputy is correct that it is not in the current development plan.

If it is included in the revision of the development plan, we will progress it with Cork County Council, but I have no news in that regard.

Is it a priority for Transport Infrastructure Ireland?

Mr. Peter Walsh

The provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads is a priority. The selection of the projects to go into the national development plan will be for the Department of Transport and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and we will deliver them.

I thank the witnesses for their participation today. Deputy O'Connor in his narrative painted a picture that there is nothing happening in the south west, but the contrary is the reality. The purpose of our meeting today is to ensure that the investment in the regions continues. Never before have we seen the need for investment in the regions outside Dublin. Both Deputy O'Connor and I share an ambition, speaking as Corkonians, to recognise the importance of Cork as a counterbalance to Dublin. This is my first question to both witnesses. In the context of the counterbalancing, we have heard witnesses refer to the cities beyond Dublin. Can we take it that, as part of the review, the counterbalance will be a strong overarching theme to promote equality and opportunity?

My concern is that the reshaping or review of the national development plan could become a reconfiguration. This may mean a reduction in the level of investment in the regions. I want to ask our witnesses about that in terms of the overarching philosophy and policy around investment in the regions.

I have a specific request in the context of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I believe that he should be invited to the committee in the context of this review. I welcome the extension to 19 February. I believe it should be longer, to be honest. I do not know that the commitment is necessarily in place in the minds of people.

Engineers Ireland has made a substantive submission. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, is talking about the reshaping of the review in the context of climate change and where we are today vis-à-vis the pandemic, with commutability having changed and the whole issue around working from home. In the context of working from home, wherein lie the views of TII and the National Transport Authority with regard to more people working from home vis-à-vis the transport network and the proposed reconfiguration of our road network?

The Minister, Deputy McGrath, said:

Ireland cannot continue with 'development as usual' without giving due consideration to climate-associated risks. We need to ensure that we have the capacity to adapt and we must take an integrated approach, including climate change adaption at every stage in our development plan.

That is why I believe it is important that we have the Minister in.

My final comment resonates around Engineers Ireland, the professional body that put in a review. It referred to avoiding the mistakes of the past and systematically prioritising target projects with the greatest impact for society. Will our witnesses say what they see as being the targeted projects from the south-west perspective that would have a greater targeted impact for us in the region?

My thanks to Ms Graham and her team for organising the briefing for us on the Cork metropolitan strategy. I believe it has a significant journey to take yet but it has got off to a good start. There is now a level of engagement that was not in place previously. I commend Ms Graham on her role in driving that. I hope that we can see the synergy between Cork City Council and Cork County Council working to benefit all of us. If we are to create a counterbalance, then we need a strong Cork city.

Ms Anne Graham

From the NTA's perspective, we would always be trying to ensure there is a counterbalance to Dublin. When the previous national development plan was being created, we had two key strategies in place, namely, the Dublin strategy and the Galway strategy. From those, a number of projects had already been identified. We were not in a position to put forward at that stage any projects for Cork except BusConnects because we knew that would be coming down the track. However, we now have a strategy in place and we know the types of projects required in Cork and in Galway city. We also know the approximate expenditure required for those. We will also know more in terms of Limerick and Waterford. We are in a better position to put forward the public transport infrastructure projects for the regional cities as well as for Dublin. These will act as a counterbalance. We have no issue with focusing only on the Dublin region. To meet the national development plan and Project Ireland 2040 goals, there is a requirement to counterbalance that with investment in the regional cities as well and not only in the cities but in the towns and villages, but that would be primarily around bus infrastructure and some rail infrastructure. That is very important to us.

On people working from home, we will certainly set out the public transport networks to be robust regardless of the number of people who are working from home. Particularly with the bus service network, it can be dialled up or down depending on the level of demand. The network itself, in the context of connections and the places it serves, should remain robust. We certainly have that in place in Dublin. By means of the work to assess the BusConnects for Cork, we hope to establish what will be the appropriate network for the city for the next 20 years effectively. When the network is established, it is then just a case of increasing on reducing services on the basis of travel demand.

Mr. Peter Walsh

I am in the Leinster House complex. The Chairman asked us to confirm that earlier.

In terms of regional development and the projects that might support that from a TII perspective, the national road projects contained in the current NDP all support regional development. There is a list of 12 in the inter-urban roads category. With the possible exception of the M7 in Kildare, they all address connectivity to the regions. There is significant emphasis on enhanced regional accessibility in all our projects. The second list of eight projects relates to accessibility to the northwest. The emphasis within the current NDP is very much one that produces enhanced regional accessibility and identifies the areas that did not get the benefit of connectivity in the previous plan. We would see a continued need to support the development of urban areas outside Dublin by enhancing the connectivity between them and Dublin - the largest market in the country. I hope that answers the question. We do not choose any one of them above another. In terms of the assessment of projects, they are assessed against the performance under the national strategic outcomes and enhanced regional accessibility is a very strong one for us.

The Senator asked about our views on people working from home. It is probably too early to have a clear view on it but the need for movement of freight and movement for business purposes exists. The provision of a safe and efficient national road network to meet that need is one that is a priority for us. Commuting has always placed a demand on the network.

Whether that demand spreads out in time over a day, changes in terms of days of the week or sees a reduction in some of the more intense periods, it is very early and difficult to say. The overall number of trips is likely to be the same. That is my view at the moment. In terms of research, there is nothing definitive as yet. I do not know whether I have answered all of the questions.

I thank Mr. Walsh. The next speaker is Deputy O'Rourke and he has seven minutes.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. We have received documentation from TII. Reference was made to a number of priorities that have been submitted to the NDP review. I do not know whether those priorities are contained in the document TII sent to us. If not, it would be useful to see those priorities, if possible.

In Mr. Walsh's opinion, what has changed in terms of the assessment and prioritisation of projects in the context of the NDP review? I get a sense that there is a commitment in the programme for Government to shift the focus away from roads infrastructure, for example, towards public transport. Is this something that has been emphasised to TII? What does Mr. Walsh see as new about this review?

Mr. Peter Walsh

In regard to our submission to the review, I checked with the Department of Transport about its circulation. The Department has asked that we indicate that it will make all the submissions available when it has them and that they should not be handed out piecemeal from each of the agencies. I do not mean to avoid the Deputy's question. The document will be in the public domain.

Mr. Peter Walsh

The Deputy's other question was about what has changed in terms of prioritisation. There are two specific changes, as I see it, in respect of the projects in the review. One relates to climate action. There is a requirement to achieve significant performance in terms of carbon reduction. The performance of projects in that regard will be influential in terms of their selection for delivery. That is my opinion. Obviously, they will go to the Department of Transport and also to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

In terms of the national road network, the other change for us relates to vulnerable road users. We have just concluded the last road safety strategy. Whereas fatalities on the network are down and the performance has been quite good overall, fatalities among vulnerable road users are up through the period of the previous strategy. This comes at a time when we are heading into a period when active travel is very much being encouraged. People around my age and probably younger are getting on electric bikes and going out on the network. We are going to have to address that in a very proactive way in our projects. It may not change the specific nominated projects but the manner in which we develop the designs will have to address vulnerable road users in a way that we had not really addressed them previously.

I thank Mr. Walsh. A number of projects are highlighted as being at different stages of development. I represent Meath East and the N2 Rath roundabout to Kilmoon Cross scheme is a project that I have been highlighting since my time as a councillor. The case for a Slane bypass is compelling. The M50 to Clonee upgrade is another project that makes the case for itself. I lend my voice to supporting all of those projects. One does not have to see any AA Roadwatch update to know about those individual bottlenecks and issues.

I again thank Mr. Walsh for the presentation.

Could I ask Ms Graham the same question in terms of the shift in priority or emphasis following the review of the development plan? I am interested in particular about how it relates to the assessment of projects and what the priorities are. I thank the NTA for its presentation to Meath County Council yesterday, which I attended. As Ms Graham is aware, I have a particular interest in the Navan rail project. We recently saw the report on the western rail corridor. Communities in those areas are really disappointed that another review does not match their aspirations for investment in rail for public transport and freight transport. Will there be a step change with this review on public transport, including rail transport?

Ms Anne Graham

I do not have a huge amount to add to what Mr. Walsh has said about prioritisation. Carbon reduction is certainly going to be a key aspect in terms of assessment. The assessment will not be done by the NTA or TII, it will be done by the Department of Transport and the Government.

Am I correct in saying the public spending code and an updated common appraisal framework will take into account new elements updated in October which include the price of carbon, the real cost of carbon and also the effect in terms of people’s time?

Ms Anne Graham

Yes, that will be included as part of any preliminary business case, either when a strategic assessment is being done or moving into a preliminary business case. But that is more of a later stage in the development of a project. In terms of what we will be putting forward, from our point of view we want to see projects that are going to give the greatest return for the State in terms of cost versus benefits. That would include carbon emissions benefits as well. It is not just focusing on Dublin but also on the regional cities and rural towns as well.

Our responsibility in terms of rail infrastructure is only around the greater Dublin area. We have no responsibility for any improvements to rail infrastructure beyond that area. As the Deputy is aware, we are looking at the Navan rail line as part of the review of the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. That work has commenced with AECOM. In terms of putting forward a delivery, what we would like to do is achieve all the transport strategies and all the projects outlined in them for the various areas, but in terms of prioritisation it is really about getting the best return. I refer to what gives the best coverage in terms of public transport networks for the least amount of money in the shortest possible time, or within the time period of the NTP. That is as much as we can say at this stage in terms of the projects.

I thank Ms Graham.

I confirm that I am within the Leinster House complex at the moment. I have a few questions that I would like to put to Ms Graham of the National Transport Authority and then I would like to ask some additional questions of Mr. Walsh of Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

I thank Ms Graham for her engagement with us today. Quite a serious issue developed in County Clare overnight. We heard that a well used and well supported bus route in east Clare is being pulled. The route 345 Scariff to Limerick service is being overhauled and enhanced, but along with that enhancement the NTA has directed that an add-on service provided up to 3 January on Saturdays to Tulla, Bodyke, O’Callaghan’s Mills and Broadford, the four largest villages in east Clare, will not continue. In the Government's July jobs stimulus, the plan was to enhance rural transport, and there has been investment

There was good news today for west Clare, where the NTA and Local Link will enhance Bus Éireann routes in terms of frequency.

I ask Ms Graham, as the person at the helm of the NTA, to re-examine the service that people in Tulla, Bodyke, O'Callaghan's Mills and Broadford have enjoyed. I ask her to intervene in this. I have spent the morning on the telephone to management of Bus Éireann in the region. They are very clear that they would run the service if it was authorised by the NTA. Could Ms Graham address that matter if she has knowledge of it?

Ms Anne Graham

I apologise to the Deputy. I do not have any knowledge of that. I will get a written note for him on that, if that is okay.

I thank Ms Graham. I would appreciate that. It is something that needs to be addressed very quickly. A lot of misinformation is circulating. People want to know that the service will continue. Perhaps a logical way of applying the service in east Clare would be through Local Link. That is what is happening very successfully in west Clare.

My next number of questions are for Mr. Walsh of TII. I refer to the Limerick northern distributor road. It was not referred to in the presentation pack he circulated to Deputies yesterday. It is a critical project north of Limerick city to south-east Clare. Phase 1 runs from Coonagh to Knockalisheen and Meelick. It is not a very long road and would provide for enhanced pedestrian links and cycling ways. The project has stalled. My understanding is that it is currently on the desk of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and needs to move off that in terms of having a contractor carry out works on the ground. Some €58 million is the overall project cost and a lot of money has been spent to this point in terms of surveys and reports. Even the spur of the road has started at the Coonagh roundabout near Tesco. A lot has been done. For the project to go back to review stage at this point would only serve to perpetuate the uncertainty that landowners and homeowners in the area have encountered from many years.

Before Mr. Walsh responds, I should add that despite the problems phase 1 has faced heretofore it is anticipated in the region. Phase 2 is more disputed in that its route line dissects the village of Parteen in half, something I have huge reservations about. Another proportion of the road goes through floodplains in Cloonlara. As an overall project, it is good. The route line of phase 2 is not so good. Phase 1, which should have been completed last September, has stalled. Can Mr. Walsh tell us whether there are any other barriers or impediments preventing the project from proceeding? I ask him to update us on the status of the Killaloe bypass.

Mr. Peter Walsh

I do not mean to be awkward The road the Deputy is talking about, namely, the Limerick northern distributor road, is not a national road. As such, it does not come under our responsibility in TII. I am afraid I cannot illuminate the situation. I will have to come back to the Deputy on the Killaloe bypass. I am happy to provide an update to him. I do not have the information to hand.

We would very much like to hear an update on the N19 extension into Shannon Airport. It is an international airport. It, like all other airports, is currently in the doldrums, but it is a vital piece of infrastructure. In the event of an accident at Shannon Airport, there is only one lane of traffic in and out of it. The extension would provide dual carriageway capacity to the door of the airport. Does Mr. Walsh have any update on that today? Could he furnish me with one after this meeting?

Mr. Peter Walsh

I will furnish the Deputy with one after the meeting. It is a project we are aware of and are progressing. We are doing some immediate remedial works. It is a significant project, as I understand it. The earthworks are quite complex. I will provide the Deputy with an update on both projects and I am happy to do so.

I am not having much joy with TII. I refer to a parochial issue, namely, Bunratty on the N18 dual carriageway. The Bunratty local development committee has been awarded Government funding to develop some fabulous trails. It is, as the committee probably well knows, a magnet for tourism. The trails have to be started and completed by a certain deadline because the community is adjacent to the dual carriageway. There is a need for sanction and approval from TII. The development committee has been passed from pillar to post over the past number of weeks.

I ask Mr Walsh, this evening or tomorrow, to intervene in this case to allow this fabulous amenity to be completed and not to have really good positive public money washed aside because deadlines cannot be met.

Mr. Peter Walsh

To respond to that point, we received the submission in December. From our perspective, the entire concern is safety. That will be the element of the project that will be examined, and it will be done so quickly. We will give a quick response to it. As I have said, it is a high-speed road at that location and our primary concern is the safety of all road users. We will not hang around. We received the submission in December.

I conclude by thanking Ms Graham and Mr. Walsh for their contributions today. I ask that focus is placed on that bus service in particular. I hope they will come back to the committee soon with some positive news on it. I look forward to receiving some updates from Mr. Walsh when the meeting ends.

I will take the issues in order. Mr. Walsh outlined various projects in his presentation. On page 30, he speaks about the N20. He will probably be aware that it is a project that is very close to my heart. I have campaigned for it for many years. I would like to see "M20/N20" rather than just "N20". There has been a period of public consultation on it. I have been critical that the public consultation to date has not covered the proper modelling. No modelling has been done around safety, costs or travel times. Eight routes were proposed, some of which were upgrades to the existing routes and others that were new routes, including, certainly, from Charleville to Limerick, a maze of routes, many of which make no sense.

My understanding is that the consultation was a non-statutory public consultation. I believe a further consultation is required after the modelling has been done on the routes in respect of safety, travel times and cost, because it created a huge degree of confusion among people living along the routes, both in terms of road and rail. Three rail routes were proposed. Irish Rail has already completed a proposal and is putting in a submission on the upgrading of Limerick Junction to Limerick with a second rail line. Both of the other two proposed routes are in private ownership, one of which crosses virgin territory from Bruree to Killonan, and the other goes along an old line. I ask for a commitment from the TII that there will be another period of public consultation on the M20. I ask Mr. Walsh to go through that. A huge degree of confusion has been created because the modelling was not done prior to the routes being put out for consultation.

Mr. Peter Walsh

To clarify, the sponsoring agency is Limerick County Council and it is acting on behalf of both itself and Cork County Council. TII is the approving authority for the project.

But it is within the overall responsibility of the TII.

Mr. Peter Walsh

It is, yes. On the issue of the public consultation and the process, it is a prescribed process. It requires that all options are considered. That is what the project team is meticulously doing. There is not any assessment put out into the public domain, seeking input from the public, at the time of going through the initial route options. When we talk about non-statutory consultation, as part of the normal process of projects, we conduct two non-statutory consultations.

One is around the route options and then a further one comes later, after the preferred route is selected. There will be further non-statutory consultation. There will also be a statutory consultation process when the project is submitted to An Bord Pleanála. In terms of the analysis of the benefits, costs and so on-----

Our time is limited Mr. Walsh. All I am asking is that TII would consult with the design office of Limerick City and County Council. Routes were put forward but the next public consultation will be on a selected route, a road that is possibly complemented by rail. That appears to me to be an incomplete process. Why were routes put out for consultation and considered under certain criteria but not under the key criteria of cost, safety and travel times? That created an enormous degree of confusion. There were two routes from Cork to a point just outside Buttevant and around eight routes from Buttevant to Limerick, which created a huge degree of confusion and anxiety. Many of those routes will not get through the modelling process and if that is the case, why put them out for consultation at all? Ultimately the council reports to TII. I ask that TII would discuss this with the council and encourage it to engage in a further public consultation process when modelling is done on safety, costs and travel times. Will TII commit to doing that?

Mr. Peter Walsh

Yes, absolutely. I have no problem with that.

Thank you. My next question is for Ms. Graham of the NTA. There are new routes in operation now and I welcome new routes like the 323 and the 345, particularly the former serving Birdhill, which I sought. In more recent times, the X12 Limerick to Dublin Expressway route, which served Nenagh, Roscrea, Portlaoise, the University of Limerick and many locations outside Limerick city, including Castletroy, was discontinued on 29 January. The NTA's letter to this committee and to me as a Deputy for the Limerick City constituency states that there are sufficient services along the route. However, only one provider on the route, JJ Kavanagh & Sons, which is providing a good service, is serving Roscrea, Nenagh and Portlaoise. The other providers are not serving those places but are providing a direct service between Dublin and Limerick. Why did the NTA not ask Bus Éireann to defer decisions on its Expressway routes until after the Covid-19 pandemic? Certainly decisions regarding Cork and Galway have been deferred. Those routes are continuing to operate, albeit at a reduced level because of Covid-19.

Ms Anne Graham

First, I wish to make clear that the decision of Bus Éireann was a commercial one as it related to its Expressway service, which is operated on a commercial basis. Bus Éireann made a decision in September to alter or withdraw certain services and that decision has now been implemented across a number of services, including the X12. The role of the NTA is to assess the services that remain and to determine whether there is a public service obligation to put in additional services associated with the towns that have experienced a reduced service or no service at all. In the assessment we carried out, we determined that along the X12 route, which served Nenagh, Roscrea and Portlaoise, there are sufficient services remaining in those towns such that there is no public service obligation for us to put in additional services. Regarding the other routes, namely, the X20 and the X8, we determined that a public service obligation remained for certain locations.

In those cases, we asked Bus Éireann to retain a smaller number of services on those routes to fulfil the public service obligation until such time as there is either another operator operating on a commercial basis or we are in a position to tender out for a number of services to provide the alternative, which possibly will be the case for the X8. For the X12, our assessment is that the remaining services fulfil the public service obligation. It will not match the service level that was in place before Expressway pulled out but it certainly means that the towns remain served by connections.

In that context, can I ask that the National Transport Authority keeps that under review because the situation might change completely post Covid-19?

Ms Anne Graham

That is true.

Will Ms Graham give that commitment?

Ms Anne Graham

We will always have to keep that under review because there could be other commercial decisions made by other operators that would impact on the situation. This is the situation that applies now but, obviously, we will continue to keep it under review.

My final question relates to the Limerick Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy, LSMATS. It went out to public consultation in Limerick a number of months ago. I held a public Zoom meeting that many people attended and a number of issues came back. It was felt that the strategy is not ambitious enough in a number of areas. It was deemed that the area does not have the population for a light rail system. I made a detailed submission asking two things of the National Transport Authority, NTA. One of those was that it would consider looking at the existing rail network around Limerick city, which presents enormous possibilities within the city, going out into Moyross and perhaps incorporating a spur from Cratloe to Shannon Airport. I ask that our guests take on board all the points that have been made. I also ask the NTA to go out for a further period of public consultation in Limerick and Shannon.

The exciting aspect of the strategy is that it is linking Limerick and Shannon in a structured way through public transportation for the first time. That is very welcome but we want to get it right. Will our guests comment on the rail system and give a commitment to go out for a further public consultation on a revised draft plan in order that we can get buy-in from people? Everyone wants to get to the same end point but people had strong observations to make on the LSMATS. Ms Graham might just given a commitment on further public consultation.

Ms Anne Graham

I certainly will. We got a lot of submissions on the draft strategy that we are assessing at the moment, including what the Deputy has said about the rail system. I commit to undertaking a further round of public consultation on an updated draft transport strategy.

When does Ms Graham anticipate that will be?

Ms Anne Graham

I will check with Mr. Creegan but I think we intend to do that around March or April.

Mr. Hugh Creegan

I think it will happen around April or May, to be safe.

Ms Anne Graham

That is April or May of this year.

That will be very welcome to the public in Limerick and Shannon. I thank Mr. Creegan and Ms Graham.

I thank Mr. Walsh and Ms Graham for appearing before the committee today. An awful lot of the earlier questions dealt with some of the issues I was going to ask about, including the reasons and extra factors that are taken into account for review of the national development plan, NDP. Mr. Walsh and Ms Graham both mentioned planning, which can be a huge issue. It is about trying to find the perfect cross between giving people a sufficient opportunity to point out if there are difficulties that will relate to their lives, possible logistical difficulties that are not necessarily seen by planners, and considerations around being able to implement the necessary infrastructure.

Rather than asking general questions, I will also be parochial. I am a Deputy for Louth and will throw the N52 Ardee bypass into the conversation. That project was on the books and almost shovel ready for ten years but an awful lot of change has happened in that time.

The community living on the Bog Road raised the fact that they would have been completely cut off from their hinterland. The circumstances ten years beforehand were very different. That matter was reviewed and dealt with. I ask for an update on it.

In a general sense, what do the witnesses propose would be a fair process for dealing with planning problems? That is probably a question for the representatives of TII first of all.

Mr. Peter Walsh

I thank the Deputy. I will illustrate my answer to the question on what a fairer process would be with an example of an issue that has been a frustration. I am not pointing fingers at anybody. The N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy scheme was submitted to An Bord Pleanála on 15 May 2017. It passed each test and was approved by An Bord Pleanála in July 2018. It has been through various judicial review challenges and we still do not have an outcome. We may not have one by May 2021. There has been no finding of any substance. Nobody can point to anything that Cork County Council did wrong on the project. I can only assume that the length of time the process is taking arises from the capacity of the courts to deal with the issues. It may well be that there is a resourcing issue there that should be addressed, although that is probably not for me to say. I am not suggesting that people's rights should be in any way curtailed. If any substantive issue had been raised, any resultant delay would be fair enough, but no such issue has been raised.

As a member of the N28 group, may I make the point that if TII had engaged meaningfully on the first day, we would not be where we are today. I am not seeking to have an argument, but let us be fair. The residents of the area were trampled on. If there had been proper engagement, the problems could have been avoided. The majority of people in the area were not against the road but they were against the way in which they were treated, to be fair.

Mr. Peter Walsh

I accept the Deputy's point. I am just saying that I thought-----

Perhaps Mr. Walsh can come back to the Senator on that issue. Senator Buttimer should-----

Mr. Peter Walsh

-----it might help if I illustrated my answer with an example.

I apologise for interrupting. I was involved with those residents. The majority of them were not against the road but they were against the way in which they were treated. For the information of the Chairman, I am in Leinster House.

The Senator can come back in with further thoughts on the matter at the end of the meeting. We will allow a little extra time for Deputy Ó Murchú to finish his contribution.

I apologise for interrupting Deputy Ó Murchú.

That is no problem. I suppose it highlights that there is a need for all aspects of the entire process to be sorted out, in the sense that, whether they are right or wrong, people often feel aggrieved that they do not have speedy enough access and that it can at times be slow and cumbersome. I accept the point made by Mr. Walsh in respect of the resourcing of courts. That is a wider issue than that which relates to this particular point.

There also needs to be a means for changes to be made. The Ardee bypass is a necessary piece of work but it was almost sold to people at one point as being a take it or leave it situation. They were told that if changes to the project were sought, it would not happen and the money would not be released, etc. There needs to be means and an ability to get relatively small aspects of a project changed quickly and to ensure that a project is not held up. However, people should not be logistically screwed over for want of a better process.

Mr. Peter Walsh

Does the Deputy want me to comment on the N52?

Mr. Peter Walsh

It was an unfortunate situation which arose, as the Deputy described, from the length of time that elapsed in the context of when planning was granted. The design dated from 1999 and there had been significant changes in terms of the pattern of development and so on in the intervening time. When the project was considered for construction, the issues raised by local representatives were found to be valid, so it had to go back to consultation. The Deputy is correct.

I understand it is frustrating for people that it cannot be fixed quickly. However, the consultation concluded. Covid-19 did not help with the consultation and it took longer than people were anticipating, but it has concluded. It will be going back to another planning process, however, and we expect that to commence immediately. The scheme will be better for it, and the issues raised were valid.

I appreciate that. Can I ask Ms Graham for her views on what has to be fixed in the planning process to make it better for all sides?

Ms Anne Graham

That is a hard question and better minds than mine have tried to put forward proposals in that regard. One thing that might assist the country in the future is to get to a point where there is much more balance in terms of projects going through the planning process, rather than having them arrive in bunches which causes resource issues for all the different agencies involved. I am thinking about the planning processes for MetroLink, DART+ and BusConnects, which are all coming into the planning process at the same time. That is just unfortunate and the way it has happened, whereas if they were scheduled and we had a great deal more pre-planning in terms of our capital investment, we could time them so that between our roads projects and all our major infrastructure projects they are more balanced as they are coming through the planning process. That is not always achievable because consultation can bring up issues that might delay projects, but something that may be considered in the future is to try to have a pipeline of projects across our infrastructure that comes to both the planning process and the legal process, if that is necessary, in a much more streamlined fashion. That is the only view I can offer.

The other point is to try to do as much pre-consultation as possible. It will not necessarily result in no judicial review process, but if many of the issues can be raised in the public domain as early as possible in the process, it should lead, one would hope, to a much more streamlined process coming into the planning process. However, there is no guarantee of that.

I appreciate that. Can I have a brief update on the N2 from Ardee to Castleblayney and a general timeline, if the witnesses have it?

Mr. Peter Walsh

The update in the active list is probably the most up-to-date one I can give the Deputy. I can revert to him with more detail on it, if he wishes. I would have to go rooting through the paper now.

I appreciate that, and I will not hold up proceedings. I accept all the review scenarios.

With regard to remote working and having robust public transport services, there are many services that will require a greater level of frequency and we probably have to examine ticketing that allows for partial commuters, which will be the reality of remote working in the future. I also ask that any determinations the witnesses are looking at as regards reviewing would contain a cross-Border aspect, ensuring an all-Ireland type of response.

The areas of policy, strategy and planning have been covered, so I will revert to what I am probably best at, which is being parochial. Ms Graham covered the X12 Bus Éireann Expressway route. In Tipperary, we are obviously greatly concerned about the X8 from Cork to Dublin because Bus Éireann, despite a great deal of pressure from many public representatives, has said it is not a commercial route.

The Cork to Dublin route is crucial to the service in Cashel. It is a major disadvantage for a heritage town, which has the Rock of Cashel and which is frequented by visitors, to have the bus stop on that route taken away. How can an adequate service be provided on that route in the absence of Bus Éireann?

My second question is for Mr. Walsh regarding the N24 road from Cahir to Limerick Junction. Will he please take me through the work that has been carried out, what progress will be made in the short term and the timescale involved? I am especially concerned about the section from Cahir to Tipperary town, which is in bad condition. The road has heavy traffic, is extremely dangerous and is not fit for purpose. In addition, we have the major issue of Tipperary town itself, which has been congested for years with HGVs. It is a major bone of contention, and it has become very difficult to find a solution. Many people, however, would say that the only way to address the issues affecting the town is a bypass. I ask Mr. Walsh to comment on that scheme.

I would also like him to comment on the situation in Thurles. It is a busy town, which again experiences traffic congestion, time delays and resultant problems with carbon emissions. The design had been completed for works there and it had advanced to the stage where the preferred routes had been identified. If Mr. Walsh does not have information on that aspect now, he might communicate with me in that regard. I would like an update on whether that project is still under consideration and the prospects of moving it forward.

Would Deputy Lowry like Ms Graham or Mr. Walsh to go first?

It does not matter.

I call Ms Graham.

Ms Anne Graham

Regarding the X8 route from Dublin to Cork, we have also done an assessment for the X12 route, as I have outlined. In the case of the towns mentioned, namely, Cashel, Cahir, Mitchelstown and Fermoy, we have assessed that there is a public service obligation, PSO, to provide services once the Expressway service has pulled out. We addressed that issue by approaching Bus Éireann to operate four services daily under the emergency direct award contract we have in place with it and other commercial operators to support their commercial services. We are proposing to fund four services daily in each direction under the emergency direct award. We will obviously continue to assess those services to see what the demand will be when we come out of these current restrictions. Our immediate plan, therefore, is for four services daily, and they have been operating since Saturday.

Ms Anne Graham

Those services have been operating between Dublin and Cork, and serving Cashel, Cahir and Mitchelstown. Those services run along the alignment of the former X8 route and serve those towns previously served by that alignment. The services, however, have now reduced to four services daily in each direction.

I thank Ms Graham.

Mr. Peter Walsh

A public consultation will commence on the stretch of the N24 from Cahir to Limerick Junction. This will be the first of the non-statutory public consultations, and I think it will commence in several weeks. We are aware of some of the interest expressed concerning how Tipperary town should be treated, etc.. The project is in development and it is one of the list of projects covered in the NDP that is to be brought through planning development under the plan. There was no commitment to construction regarding that project in the current NDP, and the progression of that project will be a matter for consideration by the Departments of Transport and Public Expenditure and Reform as part of the revised NDP. We are supporting the progression of the design. I can get more detail on that matter separately for the Deputy.

I am reading from a paragraph I was given, but we can provide the Deputy with a little more information on that.

The Thurles project does not exist on any active list at the moment. I am aware that there is a selected route, but as a project it is not active.

I thank Mr. Walsh. I ask him to communicate with me on the N24.

Mr. Peter Walsh

I will indeed.

I ask Ms Graham to send me a note on the X8.

Ms Anne Graham

I can certainly do that.

I thank both speakers for being here to address the issues before us. I will turn first to TII. I have had some communication from TII. It is one of the great pities that such people cannot be here themselves to make their cases personally, but Councillor Duffy in Mayo has made a very strong case for the N26, which is a major route between Swineford and Ballina. The witnesses will be aware that literally thousands of people in rural Ireland have to commute many kilometres to work each day. I am personally aware of a number of people who commute from Castlebar to Belmullet daily - two round trips - which is quite a distance, as the witnesses will appreciate. In the response TII gave me following my communication with the Minister, I find it deeply depressing that there does not appear to be any funding available in the foreseeable future apart from the €50,000 Councillor Duffy is prepared to put into the system out of the roads budget that he has allocated to him. I have driven the road myself. It is lethal. It is very hard not to see Councillor Duffy's point when one sees the money we spend on roads in Dublin and on building new roads. The Dundrum bypass, which is just down the road from me, is one that comes to mind. The money spent on it would probably refurbish several roads in Ireland. I understand that TII has had dozens, if not thousands, of submissions on the N26. Is there any hope of getting something done on the 25 km stretch between Swineford and Ballina? The road is used by anybody travelling around Ballina, Easky, Erris or anywhere along that route. Farmers, teachers, nurses - you name it, they all use it. That is the first question. I will leave that over to the witnesses representing TII to answer.

Mr. Peter Walsh

Certainly. I know something about this one. The N26, the N58 and the connections between Castlebar and Ballina comprise a project that was looked at in some detail some years ago. The main emphasis and the main connectivity that was required was between Castlebar and Ballina. The N58 is the route that is selected to provide that connectivity up to Foxford and then up the N26 from Foxford. The N26 from Foxford down to Swineford, however, is carrying quite low volumes. One aspect of it that was problematic from a safety point of view was Cloongullane Bridge over the River Moy. That is being funded and is under construction. The rest of the route is to be targeted for online upgrades. It is one of very few routes mentioned in the current NDP as being one to be so targeted. That is the manner in which we would see that being developed. It is capable of taking it and the traffic volumes are quite low. That is the plan for that piece of the national road network. I hope that answers the question.

It does but I do not suppose it gives much solace to those who are using the road. I understand that TII has limited resources that it must work with, but Mr. Walsh might drop me a note on the matter and engage with Councillor Duffy and see how we might best spend whatever funding he has to make any improvements that can be made to that road.

Mr. Peter Walsh

If Mayo County Council wishes to avail of funding from a source other than TII, that is one thing.

However, we receive our funding from the Department of Transport and will deal with it in that way, so we cannot have an arrangement of that nature.

My understanding is that Mayo County Council has made this a top priority. Mr. Walsh and I might engage further on this, but I will take him off the hook at this point.

Mr. Peter Walsh

Thanks very much.

Senator Craughwell's work is done.

Turning to Ms Graham, there has been a great deal of discussion in my home county of Galway, in particular along its commuter route from Craughwell - how surprising is it I mention that? - to Barna, about a light rail network. New commuter technology that is coming on line probably meets carbon emission targets and so on. The route from Craughwell, Athenry, Oranmore and on into Galway city and from there to Salthill, Knocknacarra and Barna covers the majority of where the workforce in Galway is located. Anyone who has been in Galway recently will know that the early morning and evening rush hour commutes are crazy. People in Galway are seeking a feasibility study to examine new transport technologies. Where is the NTA in terms of supporting that?

Ms Anne Graham

In the transport strategy developed for Galway by the city and county councils, an assessment was done to determine whether there was sufficient demand for a light rail service. It was found that there would not be sufficient demand within Galway city along the alignment that the Senator mentioned. We believe that an enhanced bus system is the approach for Galway, although this means that a significant level of priority must be placed on the approach roads and the routes through Galway city in order to support an effective and more efficient bus system. That is our approach to Galway, in association with Galway city and county councils. In that regard, Galway City Council is beginning to bring forward projects and has started consultation on many of them. Associated with that is a significant cycling network and a walking network throughout the city. These are three aspects of the matter, as is ensuring that regional bus services can access Galway city, including by supporting park-and-ride services at, for example, rail stations. That is what is set out in the Galway strategy and is what we would like to fund. If funding is made available, we would like to progress these projects as quickly as possible for Galway city.

There is a cultural change to take place in the area in terms of commuting. I have always believed that, if you build it, they will come. I thank both of the witnesses for answering my questions.

I thank the witnesses for their participation. My first question is for Mr. Walsh and TII. He provided us with an extensive list of large projects and significant expenditures under the national development plan, NDP. It concerns me that they relate to an area with significant carbon emissions and a fossil fuel dependency. I will ask a couple of direct questions on that point. What is the total cost of TII's road projects under the current NDP? Does Mr. Walsh have an approximate figure for that?

Mr. Peter Walsh

I do not have one to hand. I should say that many of the 23 projects in design are at early stages. What have been identified are the segments of the network that require intervention. It does not mean that an eventual project will be the full length of the relevant segment. In many cases, it is too early to determine the associated cost.

A number of projects in the list are costed. When TII assesses a project, does it measure the embedded carbon and the likely carbon emissions from the project over its lifetime?

Mr. Peter Walsh

Not currently, but it is a practice that we are introducing.

Good. Will that practice be applied to some of these projects as we consider the new NDP?

Mr. Peter Walsh

It will but were I to be asked to produce figures for embedded carbon or carbon emissions for the users of the eventual project immediately, I would have great difficulty in doing so. It has been done for a couple of projects. We have a carbon tool in development, which is being used on Galway city's ring road and on the M20 but it has not been rolled out to every project. It is our ambition to bring that into common usage when developing the projects.

I thank Mr. Walsh. It is a good thing to do. I appreciate that it has not been perfected and there is much to work out. Climate action needs to be at the front and centre of every transport decision that we make. We need to recognise that even if we are in the process of design or various stages of a plan, we need to consider the possibility of locking ourselves into future carbon emissions because we have locked ourselves into a project.

The witnesses from the NTA state that it has no responsibility for rail outside the greater Dublin area. That is unfortunate because I can see great prospects for places such as Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford in improving and providing an urban rail system. Looking at the expenditure on roads, and I do not want to have a go at TII, if we matched even a percentage of that expenditure to electrify urban lines, we could transport many people. It would be much better than building roads through these cities. Who should have the responsibility? Do the witnesses think the NTA should take on responsibility for urban rail for the five cities?

Ms Anne Graham

As part of many programmes for Government, we have the vires to develop transport strategies. In that, one would set the infrastructure requirements for urban rail in our regional cities. At the moment, we are doing it on a non-statutory basis. Having that in place gives us a little more power in determining what should be in place for urban rail within the regional cities. We would still look and assess our rail system whether we have the vires or not and put forward the appropriate rail infrastructure, whether it is electrified or not, as part of the development of those strategies. That is our position at present.

Why is Tramore not included in the Waterford metropolitan area?

Ms Anne Graham

I will pass that over to Mr. Creegan. I think it is a matter of how it is determined by the local authority.

Mr. Hugh Creegan

The metropolitan areas were defined by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the various regional economic strategies had to be prepared. That included developing metropolitan area strategic plans. Those plans defined the areas. I recall that Tramore was outside the Waterford metropolitan area and we have been following that definition for our work.

With the size of the population and proximity to Waterford city, it should probably be considered as part of the metropolitan area for the transport strategy. I will get parochial for a moment and talk about the N11 in Wicklow. I know that there is a proposal for express buses on that road. I suggest that the express bus can work well if it operates from departure point to destination point rather than pulling in at a number of stops along the way. It is important that one states that there is an Arklow bus, a Wicklow bus or whatever it is. One needs to be able to match time of journeys in a car, it needs to be comfortable and it needs to be high frequency. I know that being stuck in traffic is not pleasant. If one is going to provide a service, it needs to match the car option to work.

This question is for both TII and the NTA. When the N11 upgrade was being proposed, I understand that TII could not consider the rail network improvement and how that might improve the functionality of the N11, because improvements to the rail service were not included in the NTA strategy.

Going forward, do we need greater interaction and co-operation between both agencies so that we can consider every transport option as we try to get connectivity between our cities and through our cities as well?

Ms Anne Graham

I will address the question on services and then ask my colleague, Mr. Creegan, to respond on the N11 question. On services, at peak time in particular we try to run a mixture of express-type services that suit commuter-type travel from point to point. Off peak, we operate multi-point stopping services which serve local trips. As in the case of Dublin and in other parts of our cities, there are express services serving peak commuter travel times with multi-stop services for off-peak travel. It is important to have a mixture of both services. What the Deputy suggests would be under consideration. If consideration was being given to priority services, it would be important to make the most of that priority by providing point-to-point services. I will hand over to Mr. Creegan to respond to the other question.

Mr. Hugh Creegan

On the M11 scheme and the rail alternatives, it is fair to say - I think this answer may have been given previously - that TII does not have the means to develop rail schemes but rail options would be examined by TII and the NTA as part of the package for deciding what will happen on the M11-N11. There is close co-ordination between TII and the NTA on that corridor and the schemes that ultimately come forward will have the support of both organisations in the final decision phase.

The safety improvements proposed along the N11 in regard to the exit and entry ramps, drainage and upgrade of the road in certain places are to be welcomed, as is the express bus service. This needs to be done in tandem with development of a really good service along the eastern spine in Wicklow, serving all of those population centres. I thank the witnesses for their time.

As Deputy Dooley is unavailable, perhaps I can put my questions now and he can take the next slot, which I think is a Fianna Fáil slot as well.

No. While we are waiting for Deputy Dooley, I would like to put some questions to Mr. Walsh and Ms Graham. Have the TII and NTA made their submissions under the review of the national development plan? In regard to the terms of reference under which they are required to make submissions under the national development plan, has there been a change in those terms of reference? Are other issues being looked in terms of those submissions around road versus rail, carbon footprint and active travel? If so, how have they changed and how will that impact on existing projects? I ask Mr. Walsh to respond first, followed by Ms Graham.

Mr. Peter Walsh

TII made a comprehensive submission in December, which was followed up with a serious of questions from the Department. Whether that is the end of the process, I do not know. If we are invited to make further submissions or to provide more information, we will be happy to do so. It terms of the manner in which the submissions were to be made, they were required to be provided in a structured spreadsheet format with the performance of each project proposed commented on in terms of its delivery of national strategic outcomes. It is a comprehensive appraisal of the performance of each project.

Were new elements introduced for how projects are assessed? Was the TII required to comment on the road projects under different headings such as carbon footprint, active travel and so on? Were new features and factors introduced in terms of modelling?

Mr. Peter Walsh

I have never seen it done this way before. In the previous development plan, projects were submitted on the basis of what part of the networks were deficient. We had done our own assessment of how they performed under various headings, from the capacity of the road to the volume of traffic that was trying to use it, so there were volume to capacity ratios for each section of the network, and then the manner in which it would provide connectivity and so on. These were our own means of assessment drawn from the public spending code. This time around, the Department has set out a more comprehensive series of criteria.

How are they more comprehensive?

Mr. Peter Walsh

It is just that there are more of them and it takes in-----

Like what?

Mr. Peter Walsh

The last time around, we did not have all of the national strategic outcomes to measure against, for example.

The question is how will the assessment of the national development plan this time be different from the assessment on previous occasions. Could it have the consequence that existing projects are derailed, if Mr. Walsh will pardon the pun? What are the criteria set down? Previously, TII would have made assessments which it would give to the Department. Now, the Department is basically assessing the projects itself. Is that fair comment?

Mr. Peter Walsh

I think so. Certainly, the structure of the submission would suggest that.

Previously, TII would have ranked its projects and the Department would have taken its particular modelling on board. Now, the Department is making that decision. Would that be the change?

Mr. Peter Walsh

It is difficult for me to say.

There is clearly a difference in emphasis in the way the projects are being assessed. They are now being assessed by the Department as distinct from the individual agencies giving their ranking and that being taken on board. Is that correct?

Mr. Peter Walsh

The Department is certainly looking for an assessment of how they perform against a number of criteria, and we give that assessment. My assumption would be that the Department will use that assessment to then decide which projects to put forward for consideration by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for inclusion in the national development plan.

Previously, TII or the National Roads Authority, NRA, would have put forward their projects, which would then have found a way from the Department into the national development plan.

Mr. Peter Walsh

We have put forward projects and programmes in a similar way.

No, it is that the assessment of those projects would have been taken on board and would have been the basis on which the Department itself would look at putting the projects forward.

Mr. Peter Walsh

I am a little concerned I might be answering for the Department here. I cannot be definitive.

There is a change in emphasis.

Mr. Peter Walsh

It is a very structured means of gathering information in regard to projects.

On a question to Ms Graham, has the NTA made its submission and was there a change? How does the NTA view using the existing rail network in Limerick city as a basis for the provision of an urban rail link which would also allow us to link to Shannon Airport from the line, which currently goes from Moyross to Ennis?

Ms Anne Graham

I might ask Mr. Creegan to respond on that.

Mr. Hugh Creegan

With regard to the submission process, I think it is best to describe it as a data gathering exercise at the moment. There are stages to go through and stage one was for TII to provide information about all the projects we were aware of that could be considered, how they align with the national strategic objectives and various other pieces of information. That is only the first stage of the process and there are various other stages to go. It is too early to say how it diverges from or converges with previous processes.

In regard to rail in Limerick, it was one of the key items that was raised in the public consultation on the draft transport strategy. We are doing additional work to identify how we can make additional use of the existing infrastructure in Limerick and what other extensions might be considered as part of that.

The rail network.

Mr. Hugh Creegan

We are still in the middle of that work and, as we said earlier, we are committed to doing a consultation on the outcome of it in a number of months.

Mr. Creegan would expect it to be in April or May.

Mr. Hugh Creegan

It will be April or May. Preferably it will be April but we are in the Covid-19 world at the moment.

I will outline what I propose to do now. We have approximately 15 minutes remaining. I propose to go back to members who have indicated a wish to comment. Members will have two minutes each or thereabouts. Deputy O'Connor is first.

I have a question for Ms Graham from my colleagues in Dublin, including Deputy Jim O'Callaghan in Dublin Bay South and Deputy John Lahart, in respect of the feasibility study for the MetroLink south from Charlemont to Templeogue and Firhouse. Has Ms Graham any update in respect of that project?

Ms Anne Graham

I will ask my colleague, Mr. Creegan, to respond to that.

Mr. Hugh Creegan

That study is ongoing. It has a little more to go. I suspect it will be finished in approximately two months' time. Our intention was to release it for public consultation as part of the updated draft transport strategy for the Dublin region in the summer. We figure two months more work is required on that study.

I will use the remainder of my time. I wish to raise one more point with Mr. Walsh relating to the reclassification of national roads under the national development plan. Will he comment on the process involved? Has TII taken over any roads from local authorities on the basis of a reclassification in recent months?

Mr. Peter Walsh

The classification of the roads is a matter for the Department. I cannot think of a road that we have taken over, other than the fact that any time we build a road it becomes a national road. Often, by default, the road that is being bypassed ceases to be a national road. We have had a couple of cases recently where they have remained national roads. Other than that, I cannot think of a circumstance where we have changed the classification of a road to a national road in recent times.

I will be in correspondence with both of the witnesses. My thanks to them for their time before the committee.

My final point is for Mr. Walsh. I will be in contact with him about the N73 national road in north-east County Cork. It is an exceptionally dangerous road. The N72 runs parallel to it. Significant issues have to be addressed. I was disappointed, despite the fact that there was a €6 million increase to the budget of Cork County Council for the purpose of maintaining our national road network, that no progress was achieved. I want to see that being solved and safety improvements being implemented. It is a dangerous route.

I was not looking for a file this time.

Senator Buttimer is simply doing his job.

The point made by the Chairman about the context of this review is important. I suggest that in our private meeting we discuss the remarks made by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath. First of all, the plan is being extended to 2027-30. Second, the Minister said in October that the existing budgets may not cover the ultimate costs of mega infrastructure projects like MetroLink, BusConnects and the N20 Cork to Limerick motorway. It is important that we have a further meeting. Can we commit to holding a further meeting with Ms Graham and Mr. Walsh? We should consider bringing in the Minister, Deputy McGrath, in advance of 19 February.

That is something we will discuss. I concur absolutely.

My thanks for all the contributions. My questions are for Mr. Walsh and Ms Graham. I will use the stretch of road from the N2 Rath roundabout to Kilmoon Cross as an example to try to understand this process. This project is identified as a real need. Earlier, I mentioned the volume of traffic and the backlogs. The project is at an early stage of the process. There is an argument for proceeding with it, identifying a solution and delivering the road infrastructure. There is also an argument being articulated that a solution can be found within the existing configuration, perhaps by expanding the road a little or improving the public transport network.

Perhaps with more people working from home there would be fewer cars on the road. How are decisions on those considerations being made? For example, is TII talking to the NTA about what types of solutions are provided or are those decisions being made at a departmental level? That is the crux of a number of the issues that were raised. How are these options being assessed and who is assessing them?

Mr. Peter Walsh

I am happy to take those questions. We work very closely with the NTA. We are jointly engaged in several endeavours, including the operation and expansion of the Luas, the MetroLink project and the light rail project for Cork. However, for any project currently in the planning process, all options must be examined and that must start with the lowest possible intervention. The process must consider the online aspect, alternatives and public transport. That work is done by the design team. The sponsoring agency is the roads authority. The local authority, in the first instance, will put out a contract for the project in most cases. Sometimes it is done in-house but in most cases the project will go out to contract for design engineers to take on the development of the design. Then they will have to make their way through a seven-phase process set out in our project management guidelines and follow an appraisal process set out in the public spending code and reflected in our project appraisal guidelines. It is a comprehensive suite of guidelines and procedures that require all options to be looked at. I hope that gives the Deputy some reassurance. We are certainly not jumping to any conclusions on any of these projects.

Is Mr. Walsh saying the criteria for assessment have not changed or have they changed in the context of this review?

Mr. Peter Walsh

They have changed in that there is a greater emphasis on options consideration at the earlier stages in a recent manifestation of the public spending code. As in the case of the M20, rail options are being taken out and brought forward for public consultation. One would not have seen that with road projects some years ago. The public transport aspect is being emphasised more - that is true.

I have a final question for Ms Graham. We have spoken in the past about the need to have an orbital bus service in Ennis. It is the largest town in Munster without city status and Ireland’s 12th largest town. It is quite compact, with a population of 25,000 in a relatively small area. Ennis would benefit greatly from having an orbital bus route bringing people from its suburban corners right into the town centre. The town centre's medieval streets do not lend themselves to buses travelling up and down them but there are many good places just a stone’s throw away from the main street that could be used for bus connectivity. Is there any update on where that project is at?

Ms Anne Graham

I am not sure about the detail but I can certainly forward the Deputy a note on the project. Providing such services has always been an ambition of the NTA and Ennis is on the list of towns we have assessed as requiring a town bus service. However, we are not in a position, given the funding constraints arising from Covid, to bring forward any new bus services this year. Even those that are ahead of Ennis will not be progressing this year. Unfortunately, that will delay delivery of other services. Providing a service in Ennis town is part of our ambition to provide much improved bus services in County Clare. The service will be designed as part of the improvements to Clare bus services but, unfortunately, I cannot give the Deputy a timeline at this stage for when it will be possible to deliver it.

It is a positive in itself that the NTA is committed to the service. I ask that any statutory phases the authority needs to go through would continue. Maybe the bus service is not ready to roll out in the coming months but I ask that the NTA keep pushing on with those important stages in advance of that. I ask, in particular, that Clarecastle be looked at because it and Ennis are almost one and the same town. There is now only a roundabout separating them. They have different identities but in terms of how they have developed, they are joined at the hip. The bus service needs to incorporate Clarecastle as well.

I have a question for the NTA representatives. Irish Rail has an order of intercity railcar units ready for delivery some time next year. If the company were to increase this order, would that allow it to roll out increased capacity on, for example, the Cork, Galway and Wicklow services or to operate them at greater frequency?

Ms Anne Graham

Is the Deputy referring to diesel trains?

Ms Anne Graham

I ask my colleague, Mr. Creegan, to reply.

Mr. Hugh Creegan

The short answer is that if there were more fleet coming in, it would allow greater deployment of trains and, therefore, increased capacity. Against that, we have to balance that we are undertaking the DART+ programme, which is extending electrification and replacing diesel fleet with electrified fleet. We will see the diesel fleet cascading onto other lines. We have to be careful that we do not undermine this fleet deployment strategy by over-purchasing diesel fleet and finding later on that we have more than we need and we are unable to put in the electrified services that we want to in certain places.

I thank Mr. Creegan.

I return to the point I raised earlier about the need for cross-Border thinking in respect of this matter. In the context of cross-Border projects such as the Narrow Water bridge or the A5, has TII or any other body been involved in preliminary discussions? The Taoiseach has said that those sorts of projects will be overseen by the shared island unit and that this will bestow on them a further element of importance.

Mr. Peter Walsh

We have contact with the infrastructure service in Northern Ireland. We meet about twice a year and it keeps us updated as to where things are with the A5 project. Our main direct connection with this project is that we have a small project in Donegal that would connect to the A5 when there is a project to which to connect. It has planning approval but we cannot progress it and Donegal County Council cannot progress it until such time as it has somewhere to go. We have not been involved in the Narrow Water bridge project but I know it has come up in discussions because representatives of the Department of Transport attend those meetings. It was not a project we were progressing and I am not kept up to date on what the current thinking is on it. I am sorry I cannot give any more information in that regard.

I will put the same point to Ms Graham in terms of the general scenario of whether cross-Border thinking is part of planning. Is it fair to say that it is being given sufficient consideration?

Ms Anne Graham

From our point of view, it relates only to public transport services. There are, as the Deputy will know, cross-Border services, both bus and rail, but it is defined by regulation what can be achieved in terms of such services. They have to be aligned with the appropriate regulatory approach. This is something that is usually considered through the licensing system, which is more on the commercial side rather than the subsidised side.

We are out of time. The Covid limit of two hours is fast approaching.

I was just going to say that with rail services, there is an element of audit. It is similar to what I said earlier about accepting what the witnesses are saying about robust services. There is a requirement for a greater level of frequency, particularly when we are talking about cross-Border rail travel. Sometimes it is insufficient. Another factor is that we may be dealing with people who are now going to be partial commuters because they will be remote working for some of the week. I was wondering where the thinking is in that regard in the context of future plans.

Our two hours are up. I thank all of the witnesses from TII and the NTA for attending and for engaging with the committee. I have no doubt that both sets of witnesses will be back before the committee in the future.

The joint committee adjourned at 3 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 9 February 2021.