Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Questions (29)

Jan O'Sullivan


114 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport the options being considered for changing the height of the Dublin Port tunnel; the cost involved of each of these options; the timescale involved in making the necessary alternations to the tunnel; when he intends to decide on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6780/04]

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Oral answers (37 contributions) (Question to Minister for Transport)

My Department engaged Atkins to review the feasibility, safety implications and cost of raising the height of the Dublin Port tunnel. Atkins was requested to review a range of options for increasing the operational height of the tunnel, their feasibility, having regard to the state of implementation of the current design and build contract, and the likely additional costs and impact on the project completion date.

The final report was received from Atkins on 8 December 2003. I am currently reviewing the findings of the report and have sought further information from the National Roads Authority pertaining to its conclusions with a view to reaching a final conclusion on this issue as quickly as possible.

Was there any point in asking those questions? I asked the Minister when he intends to make a decision and the cost implications of the various options put forward by Atkins but he has not provided any information on that.

This is yet another area where it appears the Minister does not know what he is doing. He raised this as an issue because some lobby group was in touch with him and he is holding up the whole Dublin Port tunnel project because of it. It is appropriate that the Minister of State is sitting beside the Minister today because it was exactly this time last year that I raised the question of the need to reintroduce height restrictions for trucks. Does the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, remember that? That was March last year and the Minister of State said he would have the new regulations in by May. That is in the Official Report; the Minister can check it. Twelve months later there is no sign of those regulations. In a recent newspaper report a spokesman for the Minister, Deputy Brennan, said the Government was considering a ban but that this had no implications for the height of the tunnel. What does that mean?

That means nothing.

If the Minister were to reintroduce the height restriction that had existed previously, trucks which met those height restrictions would fit in the tunnel. They would not be a problem.

A later question on the Order Paper deals with this issue.

There would not be an issue about the height of the tunnel if the regulations were reintroduced. When does the Minister intend reintroducing those regulations? There will not be an issue about the tunnel if he reintroduces the regulations. Do we want to have super trucks on our roads anyway?

Otherwise, we will have to let the air out of the tyres.

That is a Kildare solution. I want to make it clear that I am not holding up the tunnel in any way. The project is going ahead at the planned pace. It has not lost a single day because of this issue.

They do not know where they are going because the Minister has not made up his mind. There is significant uncertainty about the project.

I will answer the questions if the Deputy wants me to, but how can I deal with them if she continues to interrupt me?

The Atkins report was put on the Minister's desk on 8 December last. That is three months ago and we still do not have a decision on it. Is it not the case, and this aspect has been lost in the debate, that the bore hole is significantly wider than the core where the vehicles will travel? The boring machine, therefore, has no implications in terms of the finished size of the core. Is it not the case that the issue is the cost of facilitating these vehicles which are slightly higher than many of the existing vehicles on the road? Is it not the case also that these vehicles, which are slightly higher than the ordinary heavy goods vehicles, ensure that export and import costs are reduced by the additional capacity they provide and that a small 30 cm increase could address the problem before the inner core is put in?

The Deputy is right. It is 11 m in diameter and the height is coming in at 4.9 m. That comprises 4.6 m and the extra space for headroom which brings the height to 4.9 m. If we wanted to do it there is plenty of scope inside the bored tunnels.

There is plenty of room. The issue is the cost.

The Deputy is talking about a slight shift in the ceiling or something like that to deal with that issue, if we choose to do so.

No. I am talking about changing the verges.

I acknowledge that I have this report for a few months. I will publish the report in due course but I was not satisfied with the range of prices given to me in the report to effect a slight increase in the height of the tunnel. The range of prices given to me differed by as much as €60 million or €70 million between the lowest and the highest estimate. I could not make a decision on the basis of that kind of money; it is just too much. The minimum time estimate given to me was two or three months and the longest time estimate in the report was up to 11 or 12 months or over a year. Again, that type of professional advice did not meet the requirement I had hoped would give me some certainty before I enter into any type of decision on this area.

What was the lowest cost estimate?

I have instructed the National Roads Authority to formally ask the contractor, who is on site, to give a specific definite quotation and timeframe so that at least I will know for definite before we take any decision on the tunnel. The tunnel is not being held up by this in any way. I check that on a weekly basis. If that was the case, we would move on this much faster. The implications for getting this wrong could run into hundreds of millions of euro, given that there is a contractor on site with a definite contract and I am not going to enter into that lightly.

There is a question on the height of the trucks on the Order Paper which the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, will deal with in detail.

The Minister has the first and second Atkins reports. Why has he still not made up his mind?

I have one Atkins report.

The first one was in October and the Minister got the final one in December. Why is the Minister now asking the contractor for a price? The Minister is the person who is supposed to decide.

I told the Deputy the reason.

The Minister got an expert report. The options were presented to him——

I decided to get the quotation.

——and he still will not make up his mind.

The Deputy is not listening to me. I explained that the range of prices in the Atkins report was as much as €60 million or €70 million. Atkins told me it could be this figure or that figure, and the gap is €60 million. I cannot take a stab at that out of the blue. The report told me it could take two months or a year. That is what Atkins told me, and I will release that in due course when we get some more progress on this issue. To make progress on that I asked for definite quotations from the contractor through the NRA,. That will give me a definite price and timeframe. We can make a definite decision based on that information.

It is a bit like the Atkins diet rather than the Atkins report.

Can the Minister say definitely that he wants super queues on——

That is a separate issue.

It is not. It is a central issue to the tunnel.

I wish to refer to the serious questions we asked in March last year. Deputy Shortall is right. My recollection is that the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, promised regulations on the height of trucks but he also said in response to questions, and I am particularly concerned about this, that the Government would ensure that no trucks coming out of the port tunnel would be able to access the city quays. In other words, we would get what we paid for in the port tunnel, namely, safe city quays and a far safer traffic management system. Does the Minister have to regulate to ensure that port traffic does not exit onto the quays? Is that the Government position or does responsibility for that lie with the city council? Does the Minister have any influence in the city council to make sure that trucks do not exit from the tunnel onto the city quays? I would be interested to hear if the Minister has any views on that matter.

That is the commitment he gave to the House.

It is a matter for the city council to deal with the banning of trucks in the city. It is my strong view, and I have conveyed it to the council on a few occasions, that trucks should be banned from the city centre once the tunnel opens.

If Dublin City Council is against that, does the Minister have any role in enforcing such a view to ensure the city quays are cleared of port traffic trucks?

Dublin City Council is already engaged on this issue. It is undertaking a number of studies and reviews. I believe it will arrive at the same conclusion.

What about the traffic signs?

Obviously this has been a great success to date.