I welcome the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross. The question of tolls and their impact on the local environment, businesses and for local people on social visits crossing north-south from my town and into east Meath, and the opposite way as well, is a hugely important issue for people in my constituency. The real issue here is that nobody objects, in my view, to the main toll booth at Gormanston. Everybody accepts that that is a national primary route and that one should pay the toll there. There are significant charges on the slip roads into Drogheda, for example for somebody who wants to travel from Tullyallen north of the town to the railway station or to cross down to Laytown or Bettystown. It is €19 a week, which is basically €1,000 a year. That is a huge penalty for a local, short journey.
Congestion is an issue. I have a letter here from Transport Infrastructure Ireland and it says that when it was initially put in, it was to protect the residents of Drogheda from rat-running that would occur due to traffic wishing to avoid the main toll plaza at Balgeen. The opposite has happened. I hope the Minister, Deputy Ross, visits us shortly and I would be delighted to host him and show him. As one comes through the village of Julianstown, there is significant traffic there for 20 of the 24 hours in the day. For all of the business working day, from 6 a.m. to maybe 8 p.m., there is a constant, unending stream of traffic. They are people who are avoiding the toll and coming to live in east Meath in many cases. The other issue is at the north side of Drogheda, at Mell, there are the same huge traffic volumes and congestion. I think the impact of the local tolls is unnecessary and is unacceptable to the people. I ask the Minister to address that issue in his reply.
The other facts that arise include the income for local rates. In other words, the tolls pay a rate to Meath County Council and Louth County Council. Meath County Council gets a sum of €484,000 per year from the rateable valuation of the tolls, whereas Louth County Council gets a value of €218,000 per annum. That money goes to the county councils and none of it is spent on the town most directly affected - the town of Drogheda - by this imposition on citizens wishing to travel north to south in their town. The Minister needs to come to Drogheda to meet the councils and to encourage a significant investment in the local road infrastructure, which has never been upgraded since the very significant volume of traffic increased as a result of the imposition of the tolls.
In particular, Julianstown is in a very difficult and serious situation. It needs a proper and effective bypass. I believe that this money should be spent proportionately over a number of years on improving all of the road infrastructure in east Meath, particularly around the Platin factory, which is very dangerous. It is a speed trap and there have been a number of deaths on the main road itself. The R152, where it comes from the intersection south of Drogheda going in through the Platin Road, is fine until it comes to the Meath boundary and then one is back to the road network as it was 40 years ago. That is a significant issue that must be addressed and I will talk about it in my second period of time.