Prior to moving the adjournment of the debate I referred to the costs of the Luas system and the underground option and suggested the costings available to me indicated that putting the system's centre city sections — the part which lies between the canals — underground would not have been more expensive than the proposals for an on-street unsegregated system. These costings showed that constructing a tunnel in Dublin would cost in the order of £11 million per kilometre and this compared favourably with the estimated cost of £12.5 million per kilometre for an on-street unsegregated system.
It is up to the Minister and his Department to assess the comparative costs of the underground and over-ground options for the system's city centre sections. On the issue of comparative costs, I want to address a number of questions directly to the Minister. Did the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications or CIE carry out a study of the costs of going underground in the City Centre? What firm of consultant engineers was used to carry out this study; what were its conclusions and will the Minister publish them?
This Government has made great play of its commitment to openness, transparency and accountability. It is time we had some openness about Luas. It may be the case that the city centre sections of the system could be put underground without the need for any increase in the present project's budget. If so, the Minister should explain why he is going ahead with an on-street system in the city centre which will cause enormous disruption during construction, and will deliver no real increase in journey times than could not be achieved by running a faster bus service.
What of the third line which must form an essential part of any rapid transit system for Dublin? How can it be funded? The Ballymun-Dublin Airport line must be built. We cannot construct a system at huge public expense which simply ignores the needs of the people of the city's northside. It is vital the Ballymun line is included in the first phase of the Luas project because there may not be a second phase. We are told there is not enough money available to build the northside link, but if we make better use of the resources at our disposal, it can be built.
Several hundred million pounds of public money have been earmarked for the construction of the north-south port access road tunnel. Everybody recognises the need for the port access tunnel to relieve the chronic congestion and environmental damage caused by thousands of heavy trucks trundling through the city centre every day. However, one does not have to be a traffic engineer to see that what is needed is an east-west tunnel linking the port with the main routes to Cork, Limerick, Galway and the north-west. One only has to stand on O'Connell Bridge to see that the heavy commercial traffic using the port moves along an east-west, not a north-south, axis. Does anybody expect a driver of a heavy vehicle travelling from Cork to make a detour as far north as Whitehall to get to the port? Would it not make sense to abandon the north-south route and proceed instead with the east-west option? Private sector interests have already come forward with a proposal to build an east-west port access tunnel at no cost to the taxpayer, so why not use private money to build the tunnel in the right place instead of using public money to build it in the wrong place?
Ditching the publicly funded north-south tunnel in favour of the privately funded east-west option could save the State £170 million. This money added to the existing Luas budget would be sufficient to fund the entire proposal, complete with three lines and underground sections in the city centre. In other words, provided we adopt a strategic approach to the problem, we have the financial resource to provide Dublin with a state of the art rapid transit system covering both sides of the city. It is a matter of ensuring that we get the best possible value for the money available.
This whole issue highlights, once again, the need for an integrated approach to transport management. The Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Lowry, is the Minister for planes and trains, but not automobiles. There should be a single Department responsible for all aspects of transport policy at national level. This would involve bringing roads under the same departmental roof as CIE. At present, responsibility for roads and traffic in Dublin is split among the Departments of the Environment and Justice, and four separate local authorities. Responsibility for public transport is split among the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus. Remarkably, the people of Dublin have no democratic say in the formulation of public transport policy for their city. This is a very unsatisfactory situation and it is certainly not the norm in other major European cities.
There are important questions with regard to the strategic management of transport policy in Dublin, and the desirability of proceeding with the north-south port access tunnel in particular. I appreciate this project does not fall within the Minister's area of responsibility, as he does not have responsibility for roads. However, perhaps he could prevail upon his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, to answer questions on this issue on behalf of the Government. The following are among the questions I want to see answered. Was there a Government decision to switch funding from the Ballymun line to the north-south port tunnel? If so, when; and by whom was it proposed? On what basis was the decision made to reallocate the funding; and was approval received from Brussels for this move? Why, and by whom, was the privately funded east-west port access tunnel rejected? Finally, is the north-south port access tunnel part of a larger roads plan for the capital about which we have not been told?
I am particularly anxious to get clarification on this latter point. The proposed port access tunnel will start at the southern end of the M1 motorway at Whitehall and surface at the East Wall. The existing road network in the East Wall area is poor and would be totally inadequate to cope with the huge volume of traffic coming out of the tunnel, much of which will be heading for the south city and beyond. The net result will be a major bottleneck and serious traffic congestion. At that stage, the case for resurrecting the proposal for an eastern by-pass would be so strong as to be unstoppable. This proposal would involve running a four-lane motorway across Sandymount Strand, Booterstown March and the south-eastern suburbs of Dublin resulting in untold damage to the natural environment and the quality of life in those areas. The cost of building such a road would be enormous and, depending on the route chosen, could be as high as £400 million. In the context of reduced EU funding, this would place a huge burden on the taxpayer. I ask the Government to state clearly whether the proposed port access tunnel is intended to be the northern leg of an eastern motorway around Dublin? Is the eastern by-pass now back on the political agenda? The people of Dublin should be told.
I am disappointed with some of the basic assumptions in the Bill. It is automatically assumed that the whole Luas project will be publicly funded and controlled by CIE. Consideration does not appear to have been given to involving the private sector even though this is the policy favoured by the EU, which is, after all, putting up most of the funding. It is also the policy of the recently published Forfás proposals for the future, which clearly state a preference for private funding of major transport projects.
Private provision of public infrastructure is now common practice in most western economies. In Ireland, there are two good examples of this principle in action: the East Link and West Link toll bridges. These two vital pieces of Dublin's road infrastructure were put in place by private enterprise. It is a great pity the Minister could not have borne these examples in mind when it came to Luas. Why could he not have taken an innovative and imaginative approach to the issue of funding and the potential for private sector involvement? Could the whole project not be put out to tender? A competitive tendering process could produce significant savings for the State. Even a small saving would be sufficient to fund the extenstion of the Dundrum line as far as the Sandyford Industrial Estate.
I question the assumption that CIE is the organisation best equipped to manage this project. CIE has no experience of managing a construction project of this magnitude and complexity. It has handled the DART project and, more recently, the upgrading of the Dublin-Belfast mainline but both these projects essentially involved the upgrading of existing rail track, not the construction of new infrastructure. By contrast, Luas is one of the largest infrastructural projects in the history of this State and the biggest ever undertaken in the public transport area. It will involve digging up half the streets of central Dublin, building new bridges, repairing others and laying new rail track. This will be a tall order for CIE. Already there are indications of serious cost overruns, even before the project has got under way. I understand that an over-estimation of the carrying capacity of the new trams means that additional vehicles will have to be ordered and the total cost of this slip-up could be as much as £25 million. This does not augur well for future management of the project.
We are about to make major decisions about transport planning in Dublin, which will cost several hundred million pounds of public money and shape the city's transport infrastructure for decades to come. Those decisions should be made after calm deliberation, after consideration of all the alternatives and detailed assessment of all the available options. That is not what is happening. The Minister's Department and CIE seem to be determined to steamroll this proposal through in its present form regardless of what alternatives might be on offer. That is not the way to handle such an important project.
Depending on the Minister's reply to some of the points made, my party will consider whether it will table amendments. The indications from public statements so far are that it may be necessary to amend this Bill to achieve the objectives of the Progressive Democrats in regard to the light rail transport system for Dublin.