Outer Orbital Route and Road Tolls: Presentation.

Item 5 on our agenda is a discussion with the NRA on the proposed outer ring road and road tolls. I welcome Mr. Fred Barry, the new chief executive of the NRA, and wish him well in his new position. I also welcome Mr. Gerard Murphy and Mr. Eugene O'Connor who have come before the committee on numerous previous occasions. I would appreciate if the NRA would convey to Mr. Michael Tobin, who has retired, that we appreciated his contributions, particularly during the early years of the NRA being in operation. His work will live on.

I draw attention to the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before it. 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 House, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I ask Mr. Barry to proceed.

Before the witness commences, may I ask if we have a hard copy of the presentation?

We will get one.

Mr. Fred Barry

Before I start, shall I synopsise the document?

That is not necessary.

Mr. Barry

I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet the Joint Committee on Transport so soon after taking up my appointment as chief executive of the National Roads Authority. I look forward to a constructive relationship with the committee as we jointly progress the major programme of work during the coming years.

I understand that members have a special interest in discussing two issues at this meeting, namely, the outer orbital route project and the issue of road tolls. Committee members may have some familiarity with the road tolls issue from their visit to the M4 Kilcock-Kinnegad scheme, which is under construction and is making excellent progress since they were there. I will return to the road tolls issue later in my introductory comments but I wish first to address the outer orbital road.

The committee will be aware that since December 2003 the authority's strategic planning on national roads has been greatly facilitated by the Government's decision to adopt a multi-annual funding commitment in respect of the national roads programme. The identification of the funding to be made available during the short to medium term allows the authority to plan for the future with greater confidence, to achieve efficiencies in the development and implementation of the programme and to bring greater clarity to the anticipated timescale for commencement of construction and completion of projects. The Government, in last December's budget, flagged its intention to move to a longer ten-year planning and funding framework for major public works programmes, including national roads. I welcome this initiative because the timeframe concerned is more in keeping with the demands and complexities of major infrastructure development, planning and construction. Such a period also provides greater scope to address strategic transport issues such as those relating to a possible outer orbital route. The authority was recently asked by Government to carry out a feasibility study for such a route. I wish to confirm that planning for this outer orbital route feasibility study is under way. The authority has identified its internal project management team. Advertisements for expressions of interest from suitable consultants will be placed within the next few weeks. The timescales and process appropriate to procurement of services directives will be followed with an award of the consultancy contract in August this year.

The study will involve traffic counting, surveys and analysis and we believe it will take approximately nine months to complete. The authority should report back to the Department of Transport on the route by the middle of next year. The feasibility study will take account of some preliminary work already undertaken by the authority against the background of the Dublin Transportation Office's Platform for Change and the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area.

While the authority will revisit this earlier work, I wish to emphasise that the request from Government to conduct a feasibility study will be responded to with an open mind and will not be pre-empted or prejudiced in any way by the preliminary findings of our earlier consideration of the matter. Interested bodies, such as local authorities and the DTO, will be fully consulted.

On the question of tolling, the committee will be aware that the available Exchequer funding is insufficient to deliver all of the infrastructure projects identified in the current multi-annual roads programme. In order to complete the full programme of planned road construction, the Government has identified the need for private sector funding. The vehicle for this funding is the tolling of certain roads, generally through, although not exclusively within, the framework of a public private partnership arrangement.

A number of key principles underpin the NRA's tolling strategy. An alternative toll-free route is to be available for road users. While the NRA proposes to develop toll charges that are at an affordable level, certain users may wish to forego the improved service and shorter journey time and remain on existing roads. Toll roads should be spread across the main national routes in order to create an equitable distribution of user-charging on the newly constructed network. A road project needs to be of sufficient size in order to produce value for money when using the PPP process. Where necessary, a public subsidy will be considered for high cost schemes, which cannot be financed solely from tolls.

While the aim is to secure complete project funding from the private sector for the tolled roads, a pragmatic approach will be adopted. The NRA's national strategy is to devise tolls at a level consistent with the twin objectives of deriving revenue, while encouraging usage of the tolled road and delivering a scheme's principal transportation and environmental benefits. In the case of all schemes to date, the charges have not been set at levels that would maximise revenue. The toll charges proposed are significantly below the charges that would maximise revenues so as to maximise traffic attraction to the tolled route. The authority continues to review the potential to identify further suitable toll and or PPP schemes. With this in mind, we are currently evaluating the Galway outer bypass scheme. The authority's proposals to toll sections of the network are subject to the statutory procedures of the Roads Act 1993, as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000. The process involves public display of the toll scheme documents, a facility for making objections and the establishment of an oral hearing.

The current status of toll schemes on national roads is as follows: the M1 Dundalk western bypass, the M4-M6 Kilcock-Kinnegad motorway, the M8 Fermoy bypass, the N25 Waterford bypass, the second West Link bridge and Dublin Port tunnel are all approved; the existing approval for the M50 PPP upgrade applies; the M3 Clonee-Kells motorway, the M7-M8 Portlaoise PPP motorway and the N7 Limerick tunnel are within the statutory process; and the N6 Galway to Ballinasloe route is yet to be published.

Our experience has been that there is a growing awareness of the need for tolling in the limited manner envisaged and there is acceptance of an appropriate level of charge in return for a high quality service as regards travel benefits and toll collection methods. An attitude survey conducted on behalf of the authority by an independent company identified a strong preference, 50% of all adults and 52% of motorists, that additional funding from private sources should be repaid by means of a special charge or toll imposed on motorists. Alternatives involving everyone paying through extra taxation or motorists paying higher motor taxes secured only 13% and 7% support, respectively.

The authority has benchmarked the structure of the toll charges against other European tolling practices and considers that the proposed Irish charges are appropriate for the following reasons. For Ireland's new major corridors the bulk of sections will be toll free. For example, on the Dublin to Cork route only two sections will be tolled, amounting to approximately 60 km of the 257 km overall route length. Where tolls are applied, the average charge per kilometre is in the mid range of charges across 12 European countries that have been analysed. The use of a median charge, together with the availability of free sections on other parts of the route, means that the overall charge for an entire route in Ireland will be well below journey charges in other countries.

The response of road users to the toll charge levels on the M1 adjacent to Drogheda has confirmed the affordability of the tolls. Since this facility opened in June 2003, traffic volumes have substantially exceeded expectations and growth has been sustained. A key issue for road users is that tolling is implemented by means of a high quality service and results in minimal delay. In order to ensure this, the authority has developed new national guidelines for plaza design which are based on best American practice. These design standards require substantial approach and departure lengths to enable efficient diverging and merging of traffic in the toll plaza area. All the lands necessary for an appropriately designed plaza are included in each CPO motorway scheme.

PPP companies operating toll roads will be required to meet strict requirements for level of service through the plaza. In line with international practice, the authority is committed to developing electronic toll collection, ETC. In the case of rural schemes, the high level of service required at toll plazas can be met through a combination of ETC and non-ETC toll payment options and through the dedicated ETC lanes. In order to cater for the expected high traffic volumes that will arise on the M50 when the scheme is upgraded, however, the authority's required solution for the West Link toll facility is to move it on a phased basis to free flow tolling, subject to legislative measures to deal with toll evasion.

As a fundamental part of its ETC policy, the authority identified the need for commercial toll inter-operability across the Irish network. For the road user, this will mean that an electronic account opened with one operator and the use of their onboard unit will be satisfactory for travel on other toll roads operated by different operators. In essence, this is a one account arrangement. To satisfy this need, the authority is currently procuring the establishment of an information exchange agent. This will essentially comprise a central clearing house to facilitate the settlement of electronic toll transactions across different toll facilities. By means of this information, exchange agent road users will be able to discharge the toll fee with a single onboard unit at every connected toll plaza in the Republic of Ireland by using the ETC facilities. It is intended that this agent will collect, process and distribute data between those toll operators.

The authority's tolled PPP programme has made substantial progress. One scheme which has been completed to date is the second bridge at the West Link on the M50, while three schemes which are under construction and making excellent headway include: the M1 Dundalk western bypass; the M4 from Kilcock to Kinnegad; and the M8 Rathcormack and Fermoy bypass. The contracts concluded to date for these schemes represent private investment of over €480 million. Tendering is under way for four further schemes which are: the M3 Clonee and Kells scheme; the N7 Limerick tunnel; the N25 Waterford city bypass; and phase 2 of the M50 upgrade. The tender process for the N6 Galway to Ballinasloe and M7 and M8 Portlaoise to Castletown and Cullahill schemes will also be advanced this year as will tolling proposals for both schemes.

I hope Mr. Barry will assist me by answering a number of questions. Is it possible to have an entirely electronic toll system rather than payment booths? The booths on the M50 become clogged up on a regular basis. I wonder whether a system might be introduced whereby everybody would be subject to electronic tolls. Has Mr. Barry held discussions with motor manufacturers or distributors to include this facility in the equipment of new vehicles?

Is it envisaged in the toll charges programme that regular users will receive discounts through buying a certain quantity of passes each month? Commercial travellers might use the toll plaza as many as ten times per day. Will any system be included in future contracts to facilitate such people?

It is proposed to charge two tolls on the M3, whereas the M4 and most of the other sections will have one. Many of the people who would use the M3 may feel victimised by two tolls. Perhaps Mr. Barry will clarify this matter.

Mr. Barry

It is possible to have solely electronic tolling but I am not sure whether it is the most user-friendly method. Some users, particularly occasional ones, may find it more convenient to have the facility to pay on the spot. Our objective is to transform the M50 area around Dublin, which has very heavy traffic, to a free flow toll system. I mentioned earlier the need for legislative assistance to deal with toll evasion. Due to lower levels of traffic outside the Dublin area, it is possible to have an efficient system that combines electronic and cash tolls, possibly with barriers. These would be different from the current NTR toll booths in Dublin which are not well designed and whose long queues cause congestion. The newer models will be more efficient.

I am not aware of any conversations with motor distributors on whether they can pre-equip cars. I will research this and respond to the committee at a later date.

There is a 10% discount on group tickets for regular users of the toll booths. We recognise it is reasonable for regular users to pay a little less than occasional users.

A discount of 10% for somebody who must use it for commercial reasons as many as ten times each day is ridiculous and an absolute insult. A monthly charge attached to a particular vehicle to cover unlimited usage should be explored.

Mr. Barry

It goes a little further than that. Apart from the discount for a number of journeys, it is to be expected that most regular travellers doing that level of business such as hauliers are also registered for VAT allowing them to reclaim these charges. The discounted charges thus include VAT reclamation and the discount for typical hauliers and other frequent travellers.

That only amounts to 31%.

Mr. Barry

It is still significant if it is borne in mind that toll charges are set at modest levels. I re-emphasise that they are not set to maximise revenue but to contribute to the capital funding we require. There is not enough money available to do all that we are being asked within the existing timeframe. Tolls are not intended to be penal.

With regard to the two tolls on the M3, we intend to have two toll points on each major inter-urban route. The M3 was discussed as a Dublin to Navan road but it is also a national route to the north west. In recognition that traffic is lighter beyond the Navan area than it is on the Dublin to Cork route, we propose that it should have lower tolls than some other routes. The current toll proposed for the M3 is €1.20 at each point.

What is the proposed toll on the M4?

It will be €2.40.

Therefore, it is half.

Mr. Barry

The toll for a typical commuter between Navan and Dublin will be €1.20, less the 10% discount. Individuals who may believe that toll to be excessive may instead take existing roads which will be quieter because a great deal of traffic will follow the tolled roads. We are planning tolls only where alternative routes are available. The existing roads will need to be quieter if they are to be useable. That alternative is available. However, a regular user who avails of the 10% discount will pay only slightly more than €1 per trip. In this context, it is not correct to characterise this tolling as victimisation.

Some might not agree on that point. I propose to deal first with the tolling issue before discussing the orbital road as a separate item.

I welcome the delegation and wish Mr. Barry well in his new post. The Chairman has raised the issue of the two tolls on the M3. It seems there is some problem with the NRA's approach in this regard given that this road is designed primarily to serve commuters. The existence of two tolls indicates a failure to recognise the reality of the residential development that has taken place in County Meath, much of which caters for those from Dublin and those working in Dublin who cannot afford to purchase a home in that county. Nobody can contend it is fair that such commuters are obliged to go through two tolls each day in both directions on what is a relatively short stretch of motorway.

Mr. Barry

The current road building plan provides for some 100 km of road and there are approximately 40 km between the two toll booths on the M3. Any motorist travelling from what is commonly regarded as the main commuter belt to Dublin must only pass through one toll. The second toll is located on the far side of Navan and we are not inclined to encourage people to commute from Kells to Dublin on a daily basis.

The reality, however, is that many do so.

Mr. Barry

That is correct. However, the figures indicate that the greater proportion of daily commuters can be found within the area bounded by Navan to the north. I do not suggest anybody will welcome the obligation to pay a toll. However, the fundamental issue for the NRA is the question of funding the programme for which we have been given responsibility. Exchequer funding provides some proportion of this funding but our only other means of obtaining the necessary finance is through a level of tolling. We have tried, by ensuring balance between the tolling schemes in operation on the different roads, to arrive at what seems like an equitable spread of toll levies both over different routes and over different sections of the same route. People in different locations will have different views on this but our objective is to establish a scheme that is equitable across the board.

I am sure few disagree with the principle of financing motorway development through tolls by which road users provide some element of the cost. However, the experience with tolls here has been poor, particularly given the deal that was done with NTR in respect of the West Link, an issue that has been discussed at length by this committee in the past. What lessons have the NRA taken from that deal? What safeguards have been put in place in regard to the negotiation of new deals with toll companies to ensure the public purse and the motoring public are protected from the type of rip-off evident in respect of the West Link?

In view of the chaos evident at the West Link, there has been talk for some time of the need for open road tolling. Everybody agrees this is necessary to relieve congestion on the M50. However, there is no evidence that action has been taken on any front to progress this matter. The Minister must introduce legislation to deal with the matter of toll evasion and I have tabled a parliamentary question in regard to the preparatory work that has been done in this regard.

I accept the NRA can do nothing in respect of the legislation but it has a role to play in terms of working out the logistics of establishing the new system and negotiating the cost of installing it with NTR. What examination has the NRA undertaken of what such an approach entails? Has it produced any costings and is it envisaged that the costs should be shared between the NRA and NTR? How quickly can the new system be put in place? What timescale does the delegation envisage in regard to the introduction of open road tolling on the West Link? Is the NRA also providing for open road tolling in all the new locations to which the delegation has referred?

Mr. Barry

In response to the Deputy's first question, I draw members' attention to the existing tolling on the M1 around the Drogheda area where the situation is a world apart from that currently experienced on the M50. This provides demonstrable proof that we have made good progress in our understanding of what is needed and how it can be achieved.

My question is concerned primarily with the issue of costing and the matter of concessions to the tolling company.

Mr. Barry

All aspects of the toll operation on the M1 are working better than is the case on the M50.

The West Link toll operation was initially considered to be working well but people did not expect the charges to rise as rapidly as they did.

Mr. Barry

In regard to the new system, we are using a competitive tendering process, which operates under EU directives, to ensure we receive the best possible commercial offers from the marketplace. In-house staff members are examining these tenders and we are also receiving specialist advice from financial, traffic and legal consultants as we attempt to consider the implications of each application in terms of the variables that may apply in regard to changing traffic levels and so on.

Through the competitive bidding process, we have what we believe are better revenue sharing arrangements for the public. These include measures to deal with super-profit situations to ensure that where traffic levels grow significantly, as has happened in the case of the M50, and tolling arrangements remain the same, the primary beneficiary will be the State and not the tolling companies. Variation clauses that allow us to update and amend tolling provisions and technology as required will be included in the contracts. This represents a lesson learned from the current situation in respect of NTR. Exacting performance standards will be put in place for the new toll plazas. If these standards are not met at any time we will be in a position to cause immediate action to be taken. This addresses what I regard as some shortcomings in the original contract with NTR.

Some legislative measures are required to facilitate the introduction of open road tolling but we are proceeding in this matter on the basis that those legislative issues will be dealt with. Our aim is to have open road tolling available in the Dublin area by the time the upgraded M50 opens.

When will that be?

Mr. Murphy

The M50 will be delivered in sections. The major section stretches from the Naas Road as far as the Blanchardstown interchange and is planned for completion in 2008 or 2009. We anticipate that free-flow tolling will come into play at that time. However, some sections of the M50 may still be under construction at that point.

In that case, will it be three or four years before open road tolling is established?

Mr. Murphy

Yes.

Why is there such a delay? Open road tolling is in place in many other countries. The NRA is not being asked to invent the wheel.

Mr. Barry

There is a considerable amount of background work to be done before the inception of such a system. I mentioned in my introductory comments that we are putting in place an inter-operability data exchange agency and are currently looking at proposals from various companies in this regard. It will take approximately one year for this agency to be established. While many open road tolling systems are in place globally, only some of these constitute open-flow systems in which different operators are in place. However, we have been in contact with the operators of all such systems and have received some valuable advice. This will take approximately one year to complete. While we have major road construction programmes under way, we do not wish to juggle tolling arrangements or change tolling locations. When we introduce a new tolling feature, we must roll it out to a public that is receiving the benefit of improved services. That is part of the reason for the delay.

In addition, we must deal with NTR. The NTR contract was written at a time when many of the current problems were not envisaged. Consequently, our options are limited and we must bring NTR with us, whatever solution we come up with for the West Link. We must also bring NTR with us towards the concept of open tolling. While I am open to correction, I do not believe we have the authority to issue instructions to NTR. That is another factor.

That still does not account for a three or four year delay, given that this is a hugely pressing issue in the greater Dublin area.

Mr. Murphy

By international standards, this is a massive project which entails moving a motorway that may be carrying 100,000 to 120,000 vehicles to a free flow tolling scheme, with the establishment of computer systems, reading systems, back office systems, enforcement systems and the distribution of tags. A similar project is being carried out in Austria where it took five years to implement a scheme for HGV charging, when developing itab initio. Therefore, three years is a realistic timeframe. As it is a massive project, it is important that all the systems work appropriately when implemented. Other factors include the lack of legislation, the need to renegotiate a contract and construction work. Notwithstanding this, even if we were to start today with a clean slate, it would take two to three years to put it all in place.

Can we take it, therefore, that the NRA will be able to guarantee that by 1 January 2008 there will be free flow tolling on the bridge?

Mr. Murphy

I mentioned 2008 or 2009. It will not be ready by 1 January 2008. I see it being implemented towards the end of that year.

Can anything be done to speed it up? Are there any actions that can be taken to speed up the process?

Mr. Murphy

Yes. We identified them in the environmental impact statement. We are proposing to implement a free flow tolling system in 2008 or 2009. However, a migratory approach could be adopted which could include greater penetration of electronic tags into the market, allowing for greater use of dedicated electronic lanes which would have greater capacity at the toll plaza and restricting the number of cash lanes. We have identified a possible——

Restricting the number of cash lanes without having an alternative in place would be another road to chaos as one would end up with the same problems. Can the NRA tell the joint committee what it can do in the next three years to cut the implementation time lag from 2008 or 2009 to 2007? Where there is a will, there is a way. I am sure the computer hardware needed for a project like this is available. The public cannot understand why a project like this will take so long to complete. Moreover, the NRA will have the experience of the tolling system being installed on the M4, work on which only commenced 18 months ago and will finish ahead of schedule. Therefore, the technology should be available. The NRA must do something. I have no doubt that the joint committee will ask its representatives to return before the end of the year to establish what progress to speed up the project has been made.

I welcome the delegation. In particular, I wish Mr. Barry every success in his new position. No doubt during the years we will have many discussions.

I thank the Chairman for his response to Mr. Murphy's comment on possible migration to the free flow scheme. I hope within the next 18 months an additional 10,000 heavy goods vehicles will use the M50, courtesy of the port tunnel. Does this present the NRA with a gilt edged opportunity to initiate a significant portion of the migration process? HGVs constitute a clearly identifiable market which will cause difficulty to ordinary regular users of the M50, particularly at the toll booths. It should not be beyond the bounds of imagination, especially with a lead-in period of 12 to 18 months, to arrange for the introduction of some form of electronic tolling specifically for this sector. It is generally acknowledged — on his last appearance before the joint committee Mr. Barry's predecessor came close to acknowledging this — that once the port tunnel opens, to put it mildly, the M50 will be an interesting place. By all accounts, if IKEA opens, it will be a shambles.

I agree fully with the Chairman that something must be done in the interim. Unfortunately, a difficulty we have as public representatives is that lead-in times are not understood by our bosses, the electorate. The public does not understand the concept and sees instant access to all manner of services. There is little awareness, no acknowledgement and absolutely no patience with the amount of background work that goes into a major project. My point is that the 8,000 to 10,000 HGVs that will use the M50 on a daily basis are a clearly identifiable target. I do not know the size of the national HGV fleet but a significant portion will use the West Link at least several times a week. Can something be done in this regard? It would at least start the process. Moreover, while it will not relieve the pressure on the hard pressed motorist, it will at least lessen the difficulties caused for the motorist by the port tunnel.

I also wish Mr. Barry well in his new position. In his presentation he observed that "the committee will be aware that the available Exchequer funding is insufficient to deliver all of the infrastructural projects". I wish to delve into this issue further. What proportion of the overall roads programme will be undertaken with PPP projects? In other words, what proportion is the NRA unable to fund under the ten year rolling programme? Can Mr. Murphy tell the joint committee if it is dearer to roll out the programme by way of PPPs or toll roads? Is it more expensive for the taxpayer or the State? As we are all aware, the Stability and Growth Pact rules have recently been relaxed significantly. If an extra €1.5 billion or €2 billion was available to the Exchequer to borrow on the open international market, would the traditional procurement route be a better and quicker way of delivering major infrastructural projects, especially roads? Can Mr. Murphy elaborate on the "magic" of PPPs in the context of the availability of cheap finance, as opposed to the finance provided by PPP companies?

My second question relates to the principles underpinning the NRA's road tolling policies, one of which is that a road project needs to be of sufficient size in order to produce value for money. Forgive me for being parochial but I refer to the fourth river crossing, or tunnel, in Limerick. Many make the case, although I do not necessarily subscribe to it, that it is of insufficient size to produce the requisite value for money but it is too short to be considered feasible as a PPP project. In terms of traffic congestion relief, it would be better if it was implemented by traditional procurement methods, even given the free tolling model discussed.

I have other questions but will leave them until later because my first question is my main question. People need to know the best way of completing the task with which Mr. Barry has been entrusted.

Mr. Barry

In the current five year multi-annual programme there is approximately €1.3 billion coming through PPPs out of a total spend of approximately €8.5 billion. As to whether PPPs are cheaper or dearer, if we look at the construction side of projects, the current design-build projects for which we have been tendering recently are getting us a good price. We believe this model works well in the area of road construction and produces greater benefits than the more traditional procurement methods. There is little to choose as regards straight construction costs between PPPs or design-build projects.

Is it a PPOF about which we are talking?

Mr. Barry

Yes or just using a straight design-build project, even an Exchequer funded project. Rather than providing a detailed design and then going to tender, we use a conceptual design, get it through the planning process and then allow the different contractors to compete based on the efficiency of the design as well as their construction costs.

We conduct a full value for money analysis on PPPs and are advised we get good value for money. Part of what we get from them is risk transfer, as well as the borrowing of money which, if the Stability and Growth Pact provisions were not in place, might as easily be obtained elsewhere. The risk transfer revolves around the volumes of traffic that use the road as opposed to what we think will happen. Traffic forecasting is an inexact science. We do not know whether in ten years' time growth will turn out be higher or lower than its current level.

One of the benefits from PPP is the transfer of risk from the public to the private sector. This might arise if traffic levels are lower than anticipated but is balanced by the fact that the private sector gets more of the benefits if traffic levels turn out to be higher than anticipated. The risks associated with the cost of the operations and maintenance side of PPPs are also transferred to the PPP companies. These are perhaps not as significant as those related to traffic levels.

Based on our experience so far, disregarding our experience with the West Link, we believe we are getting competitive bids on and good value from PPPs. This does not mean they would continue if more funding was available. That decision would lie in the hands of the Oireachtas. The question would then be whether we should continue with PPPs, advance the roads programme and have more roads built earlier or whether we should continue at current pace.

We are asking for advice on that question. If money was available to the NRA, would it choose PPPs or the traditional procurement method?

Mr. Murphy

It is not a question of ideology. Once we receive the final bid on each scheme, we examine whether it would beat what it would cost us to deliver it either through a design-build project or the traditional procurement method. We only sign the contract when we are sure the PPP would cost us less. For every scheme we have signed the PPP has beaten the public sector benchmark in accordance with proper practice established by the Department of Finance. We only sign the contract if it is appropriate to do so and if it beats the marker set.

It does not factor in tolls.

Mr. Murphy

It is inclusive of tolling. We will cost over a 30 year cycle the use of public sector tolling, design and build contracts, the taking over of the operation and maintenance of projects after 30 years with reinvestment after 25 years and make a comparison with the bid received from the PPP company. The bid will only succeed if it beats what we have set as the marker which is independently created for us by specialist consultants. It is benchmarked and set in place before we receive bids.

My question relating to HGVs after the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel was not answered.

Mr. Murphy

Approximately 7,000 to 8,000 HGVs will use the tunnel every day. As a proportion of this traffic will be distributed on the M50, it will possibly cause a 4% to 5% increase in traffic volumes. The HGV market is the best one in terms of electronic toll collection. Approximately 50% of HGV transactions on the West Link entail the use of electronic tags. We are setting up a toll operator for the Dublin Port tunnel which will issue tags. The facilities will be interoperable. We see great penetration of tags in the HGV market and increased penetration when the Dublin Port tunnel is opened. That will kick start it.

One of the problems on the West Link is that the level of penetration of electronic tags in the car market is very modest, reflecting the fact that the service provided at the West Link is not great. It is, therefore, a question of striking a balance in dedicating lanes to electronic toll collection in the interim and seeing whether we can issue sufficient tags to ensure they will be fully utilised. This is an issue we will be examining for the next 18 months to two years.

As an Eazy-Pass user, I suggest there may be more of a financial incentive involved in that it is really a credit account that favours NTR. There is no acknowledgement of the fact that motorists facilitate the company.

I wish Mr. Barry the best of luck in his job. If the head of the Railway Procurement Agency had €8.5 billion to spend in the next five years, we might have 20 additional Luas lines. It would be interesting to see how they would benefit the country. One might even get to Sligo——

Deputy Ryan has a bicycle.

It would facilitate him in making visits to some of his friends there.

Deputy Glennon referred to a meeting the joint committee had with Mr. Barry's predecessor during which it became very clear that the M50 was simply not going to work, even if it was widened to become effectively an eight lane highway. The modelling in the environmental impact statement shows that from 2008 most sections will operate above capacity, before a further increase in traffic volumes. This will result in gridlock at peak times and the M50 will not be able to deliver the necessary benefits.

Deputy Glennon made the point that IKEA and all other developments will further increase traffic volumes. This travel pattern was not included in the models used. When we asked Mr. Barry's predecessor what should be done to make the M50 work, he suggested that traffic lights should be placed on approach roads. I know that Mr. Murphy attended, as I did, the An Bord Pleanála hearing for two weeks either side of Christmas on the M50 upgrade. At the hearing the engineers from Ove Arup — the consultants for the project — as well as those from the Dublin Transportation Office more or less agreed that such an approach would not be ideal; that the only way to manage the M50 was to introduce a system of variable tolls to ensure a free flow of traffic was achieved. It was agreed that the best approach would be to adopt an approach similar to that adopted by the British Government in examining the widening of the M25 in London where traffic problems similar to those being experienced on the M50 are being encountered. They have examined this in detail and determined that variable tolls depending on usage of the road is the way to go. I feel quite strongly that NTR, as the current operator of the system, would be happy to close the West Link bridge which cannot have a demand management function under the existing contract. It could examine an alternative variable toll road approach. This was originally set out in a 1988 Dublin ring road study which recommended variable tolls rather than tolling in the middle of it if the road were to be managed properly.

Will the NRA listen to what Ove Arup and Partners and the Dublin Transportation Office are saying? Will it pay attention to what is being done with variable tolling arrangements in Britain and other areas with orbital motorways, such as Toronto, Melbourne and Athens? I argue for the approach roads and the operation of a system which is not a purely revenue raising or maximising endeavour as it is at present. We should introduce a system of variable tolls on the approach roads. If there are no problems or congestion on the roads in question, one should not pay, and if it is congested, one should pay. This approach has equity and justice in the sense that the motorists know their money comprises part of a system to ensure their journey times are predictable and that they are not caught in what will be an incredible mess. The Taoiseach recognised this when he stated that the M50 will not work and that another orbital motorway must be built. Should we not first begin to manage our assets and the new investment of €1 billion to widen that road well? At the same time, we should put in place a variable toll management system rather than the inappropriate, badly located and ill advised tolling arrangement that is in place now.

Mr. Barry

The NRA agrees with most of the Deputy's sentiments. It is not opposed to variable tolling or using it for the purpose of demand management. The NRA agrees with others who have said that using tolling to control demand is a much more effective way of doing it than with traffic lights or any other approach. There must be a certain level of revenue generation to fund the programme. The NRA may take issue with the question of having no tolling whatsoever at certain hours of the day. However, the NRA agrees with the Deputy on the underlying premise that tolling can be used to manage the demand as well as the revenue generation.

The M50 will be of benefit and will not be gridlocked from day one. It will be busy at peak periods. It is inevitable that more people will wish to use the M50 as the economy grows. The EIS——

The figures in the EIS show that approximately 200,000 people will use the road. The congestion reference flow is 187,000. The oral hearing was quite clear on this. Once this capacity level is exceeded, capacity decreases and not in proportion to how much it is exceeded.

Mr. Barry

It was.

It can drop by 20%.

Mr. Barry

I agree and will not argue against introducing demand management. Many benefits will be derived from the M50 works. The interchange will be better and more effective and the main lines will be improved. Road traffic levels will be very close to capacity at certain times but it is still a much greater flow of traffic than we are able to accommodate at the moment. The M50 upgrade will be very valuable but it is not an argument against demand management. I am in favour of demand management and variable tolling is an effective way of achieving it.

Why did the NRA not propose this as part of the upgrade to the approach to the M50 and buy out the West Link?

Mr. Barry

We are in discussions with the Department of Transport and others on what we wish to do in this arena. It is commercially sensitive and, with no disrespect to the Deputy or his questions, I will not say more on that.

Is this potential development possible?

Mr. Barry

Yes.

Perhaps we can elaborate on this issue. I wish to clarify what Mr. Barry said about the possible buying out of the West Link as a possibility.

Mr. Barry

It is a possibility.

Is it on the table?

Mr. Barry

"On the table" implies that we are in negotiations or whatever. I do not wish to say more than it is a possibility.

A wink is as good as a nod to the Senator at this stage and we should not ask Mr. Barry to elaborate further.

That is what I was doing.

We have already been made aware that there would be a buyout price with regard to NTR and the toll bridge but it was pointed out that the original price quoted was exorbitant and could not be pursued. I take it the NRA is trying to determine whether a deal can be negotiated for the State to buy out NTR's rights in the future.

That is correct. We are aware of this since it is in the agreement. We know it is a possibility. The question was always off the field because it was too expensive and Mr. Barry's statement that this may be under discussion is welcome news. I thank him for telling the committee.

Mr. Barry

Perhaps I may clarify that this is under internal discussion. NTR is a public trader and the NRA is not in negotiation with it.

It is important to clarify that.

Is the NRA discussing it with the Government?

Mr. Barry

Yes.

What is Mr. Barry's view on this?

Mr. Barry

I will do whatever the NRA has decided having discussed it with the Government. It would be completely inappropriate for me to second guess the Minister's decision.

That is quite interesting as there will be a debate on this subject in the Seanad on 23 March. I am grateful that Mr. Barry has provided me with this material information. I thank him.

The Senator will make the headlines.

Deputy Shortall will provide those as she has always done, even if it is from the other end of a telephone.

We will stay with the day jobs and leave the part-time jobs to one side.

When will the final stage of the M50 from Carrickmines to Shankill be open?

Mr. Barry

Does the Senator mean the current south-eastern extension?

Mr. Barry

It will be in August.

Apart from his last statement, what Mr. Barry has told us today is very depressing. When people approach us, and we politicians are very impatient people as Senator Glennon said——

Deputy Glennon.

Sorry, former Senator Glennon and possibly Senator-to-be Glennon one day.

I remember the last time the Senator made a comment such as that.

Perhaps Mr. Barry can help us with this. It is difficult for politicians to accept 2008 and 2009 for open tolling. The record of most transport projects is one of lags. What Mr. Barry seems to be saying is that the M50 commuters must put up with this, particularly those who use the toll bridge. That is the shorthand for what I am reading into this. Open tolling will not take place for three or four years. On top of this, the upgrade will cause serious delays and the south-eastern extension will open in August, putting even more traffic on the road rather than less, including HGVs. Gridlock is an appropriate prediction. Can Mr. Barry give us any comfort for the next four to five years or will those using the West Link be faced with a situation that will be worse?

What suggestions has the NRA made to NTR and to the Department about improving the lot of commuters on the West Link toll plaza during this period? What will be done for the people who will be queuing for up to 30 minutes or longer every day? Mr. Barry's comments are worthy but lofty. This is the grand plan but I am interested in immediate results. There must be a relief to immediate traffic congestion problems. I want to hear Mr. Barry's opinion of NTR's role. Mr. Murphy's reference to the renegotiation of the contract with NTR was interesting. I have not heard of this. Does a renegotiation of the contract with NTR mean the return to the table of every element of the original contract dating from 1987, including the possibility of a buyout and opening the West Link barriers at peak hours?

I welcome the delegation and wish Mr. Barry the best of luck in his new position. I would like to learn whether the NRA or the Department of Transport dictates policies on the prioritisation of projects. As bottlenecks occur at certain intersections, such as along the N3, N4, N6 and N7, it is important that they rather than the M50 be first upgraded.

In a few years, a traveller from Galway to the port tunnel will encounter five toll charges in Galway, between Galway and Athlone, in Kinnegad, on the M50 and in the port tunnel. That will incur a considerable cost to companies and to the transportation of merchandise from the port tunnel to the west coast.

Mr. Barry

Excuse me if I do not respond to all the issues that have been raised. The national roads needs study completed in 1998 identified a prioritisation of needs which became part of the updated national development plan. There is now a five-year multi-annual programme which describes a plan and the order for its fulfilment.

As upgrades of interchanges include the construction of access roads which require work be carried out on the M50, the two projects are inseparable. It would be inefficient to upgrade the interchanges without widening the M50. I take Senator Ross's point that this work will not be helpful to traffic management on the M50. However, our traffic management plans include maintaining two open lanes in both directions at all times. That is not an improvement on the present situation but the construction work of itself will not entail a significant deterioration.

I would like nothing better than to announce the introduction of open road toll charges today or within the year but there is no point in my doing so if I must explain later why this did not happen. Major investments requiring extensive background preparation and software development must be ensured to function properly or they will result in worse chaos. I travel on the M50 and use its toll booths and Eazy-Pass system. I share the frustration of others at the current situation and I would love to be in a position to say that improvements will occur more quickly but I cannot honestly make such a claim.

Does the NRA have any suggestions for the immediate amelioration of the situation at the toll plaza?

Mr. Barry

We are not making suggestions. It is clear that if toll charges were discontinued at the plaza, congestion would be reduced. The Government does not need us to suggest this.

It does because the NRA is a powerful organisation and its suggestions would carry weight.

Mr. Barry

It is a funding issue. The NRA at present relies on the Government's share of proceeds from West Link to fund the work planned for the M50. Our financial planning requires that those funds be available.

I understood Mr. Barry to say that the NRA was considering alternatives with the Department of Transport, including the possibility of buying out the West Link. Alternative tolls, possibly on approach roads, might be introduced. My concern is that the M50 upgrade is predicated on the availability of proceeds from West Link tolls. I presume that a West Link buyout would change the funding arrangements for this work.

Mr. Barry

Yes it would.

Is the NRA considering with the Department the option of a buyout and an alternative variable toll system to fund the project?

Mr. Barry

With the assistance of our financial consultants we are considering alternatives at present. We will approach the Department of Transport shortly with our plans after which it will become a matter for discussion in that Department and the Department of Finance.

Is the NRA's alternative funding proposal for the M50 upgrade for a variable toll system rather than the West Link?

Mr. Barry

We are doing what is wanted of us by exploring every avenue to find the best solution.

There will be five tolls charges between the port tunnel to Galway.

Mr. Barry

Does that include the tunnel?

Mr. Barry

That route will probably be followed by commercial traffic which will be toll free passing through the tunnel. The toll charges in the tunnel will only be for private vehicles.

Mr. Murphy said that the NRA was holding discussions with NTR to achieve agreement on the issue of an open toll charge system.

Mr. Barry

We did not intend to imply that we are holding direct discussions with NTR on this issue.

Contract renegotiations were mentioned.

Mr. Barry said that the NRA was conducting an internal investigation on the subject of the M50 and its tolls following which they hope to make proposals to the Department of Transport on alternative plans. There have not yet been discussions with NTR on its buyout.

Mr. Barry

That is correct.

Mr. Barry said that if the NRA wished to renegotiate the contract, it must bring NTR along. What he meant may differ.

I think that the implication of Mr. Barry's remark was that if NTR decides to dig in its heels, there is little that can be done because it holds an unbreakable contract. The only method of removing NTR is by means of clauses in the original contract.

The contract may be renegotiated, as Mr. Barry said. It is only if NTR refuses that this cannot happen. The circumstances of the negotiation of the original contract also merit examination.

Where there is a will, there is a way. If there is a will to change the relationship with NTR, I am sure this can be done.

I take it the NRA is not currently in discussions with NTR.

That is correct.

Will the Chairman permit Mr. Barry to reply?

Mr. Barry

We are holding a dialogue with NTR on phased improvements in the next few years.

There is a dialogue with NTR.

Mr. Barry

Yes but I do not want to mislead anybody into believing that we have entered a renegotiation phase with NTR.

We must be careful because it is a publicly quoted company. If a statement on it was to be made here, the Stock Exchange would probably then contact us.

I would be terrified if that were to occur. The Joint Committee for Transport is terrified of the Stock Exchange. The Stock Exchange is a paper tiger. I do not know what this committee is.

I do not know about that.

I have heard no reason the NTR would not be conducive to discussing the concept of a buyout of the West Link and the introduction of an alternative variable toll system.

Mr. Barry

I have no reason to make a denial. We have not reached that point with NTR.

We will move on to a discussion of the outer orbital route. I ask Mr. Barry to outline his plan for the route and indicate whether he can make a commitment that it will not become an access road for ventures in its precincts. I refer to the experience with the M50, which has become a commercial route. I would also like Mr. Barry to tell us how far west he intends to draw the route and if he envisages it to run from Dundalk and Drogheda west through Navan, Kells and Mullingar and returning to meet the southern road south of Naas. If the outer orbital route is located far enough to the west, heavy traffic on the M50 and Dublin's inner roads will be avoided. If it is a high speed road, traffic will also be reduced on side roads that commercial vehicles use at present when entering and leaving Dublin.

Mr. Barry

We have commenced by commissioning a traffic analysis study. Our brief for the road involves squaring different objectives. The first involves providing direct links between hinterland towns to improve their ability to grow and develop without the necessity of being tied to Dublin. The second is the relief of traffic congestion on the M50. While this could clearly be done by building another road 100 yards away, there would be no resulting benefit to the hinterland. A road could alternatively be located so far out that it is beneficial to the hinterland but not to the M50. We must investigate the positive and negative aspects of a range of alternative routes to develop a consensus on which, if any, to adopt. We will explore routes close to the M50 and further out. As I remarked in my introduction, we will begin with a clean sheet of paper. We will use traffic analysis to get the best possible indication of traffic levels on different routes and where journeys will commence and finish in order to know if we are catering to existing traffic or generating new traffic in some areas and whether we can alleviate congestion on the M50.

It is useful to hear the NRA's perspective but I am not sure that this committee should be discussing the proposal for an outer orbital route with it. It is the road building authority whose business, if given funding, is to build roads. This committee should concern itself with policy matters. There seems to be an absence of joined up thinking on transport and traffic issues in this Government, particularly in terms of the effects on the eastern seaboard. It does not make much sense to ask the NRA to complete a feasibility study on this because it is certain to report that it is feasible or that a way will be found to make it so. This matter highlights the existing policy vacuum. Proper planning requires that consideration be given to land use, public transport and roads. We cannot ask the NRA to explore these other issues because it is not its business. However, it is the responsibility of the Government, and specifically the Minister for Transport, to do so.

There is no disagreement with Deputy Shortall's perspective but it is to be hoped that the NRA will make its feasibility study available to the committee in order that we might hold discussions on it and with the Department.

If the committee wishes to investigate this matter seriously, it should be approached from a policy perspective. The Minister for Transport should be invited here. The broken promises that we have seen from this Government in the past couple of years highlight——

We are not about to turn this matter into a political football.

We are speaking about the outer orbital route about which I wish to make some points.

I ask the Deputy to remain on the route.

A promise had been made to form a greater Dublin land use and transport authority which might have taken a holistic approach to transport in that area. We might have explored the transport perspective of the Department of Transport and compared investment in public transport and roads. These actions were not taken.

Does the Deputy wish to invite officials from the Department of Transport to present their perspective? We have no problem in doing so.

I want the Minister for Transport to inform this committee whether he has a policy on this matter.

We invited Mr. Barry here to discuss the greater orbital route and we should permit him to do so. We should not now reconsider our decision. It is discourteous to do so in his presence and it should be done in private session.

The Deputy's views are accepted by all.

We should not expect the NRA to involve itself in policy matters in which there are serious problems because of a vacuum in the making of transport policy. I wish to ask Mr. Barry how he intends to ensure that the greater Dublin area does not become another Los Angeles, with a conurbation extending from Drogheda to Mullingar and Gorey. Inevitably, an outer orbital route will be followed by intensive development as may be seen along the M50. Has the NRA considered a cost-benefit analysis in addition to its feasibility study? This committee would be interested in such an analysis. Have alternatives such as public transport links been considered? I was struck by Mr. Barry's comments on PPPs for motorways that private developers may bear the risk for traffic volume. Developers, if dependent on tolls, would appear to have a strong vested interest in preventing alternatives to private transport.

Is the NRA proposing toll charges on the outer orbital route and, if so, how many toll locations does it envisage? Will this matter be part of the feasibility study it is undertaking?

I support Deputy Shortall. Our biggest failure has been in the link between planning and transport. That needs to be addressed by the Ministers for Transport and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I agree with Deputy Shortall that the NRA has inappropriately commissioned the feasibility study. I do not believe the NRA can examine planning issues because it is a road building agency. How does the agency adopt the new regional planning guidelines, which are based on a new policy? The approach of the previous policy had been towards the development of the metropolitan core. As stated in the new policy there is a "bananas and grapes" approach. That is the term used in the report. The "bananas" element is a strong corridor, of which I presume the Dublin-Belfast route would be an example. The alternative "grapes" — this is the language used in the report, although it sounds bananas to me — approach to development is to take centres of development such as Navan, Drogheda and Naas, reflecting the concept of a bunch of grapes development. The direction of the new policy is crazy because it is moving in the direction Deputy Shortall mentioned. In terms of spread, Dublin is already close to, and about to outdo, Los Angeles. Those who campaigned in Kildare and Meath during the recent by-elections saw the consequences of such planning.

Is the NRA obliged to comply with the broad policy set out in the recent planning guidelines and connect the grapes in terms of the development centres of Drogheda, Navan and Naas? Mr. Barry made the point that there are various alternatives. If the agency's role is to ease congestion on the M50, then it is ignoring that grapes approach set out in the report. What flexibility in this regard exists in the agency's brief? How will it get the planning context right? If demand management measures, which would be effective in terms of variable tolling, were introduced on the M50, surely that would eradicate the need for a further motorway to relieve traffic on the M50 in the sense that it would be managed better and would, therefore, work efficiently.

Mr. Barry

I hope my reply will encompass all the questions that were asked. Regarding the point that the feasibility study will automatically point to a strong need for roads, there is far more demand for roads than we can satisfy in the coming years. If a new road has to be built, it will be completed at the expense of some other project. Given limited funding, limited capacity in the construction industry and on, we do not need to build another new road to keep ourselves busy. There will be no predisposition in carrying out this study to lead us to a conclusion that we should have such a road. I assure the Deputy that this is not our position.

On the matter of the spread of Dublin to such an extent that it might resemble Los Angeles, nobody I met within the NRA is in any way supportive of that happening. It is not part of our brief or our desire to facilitate or drive such an agenda.

How will the NRA prevent it happening?

Mr. Barry

By the time we secure planning for a road project and proceed with it, we must negotiate it through the An Bord Pleanála process. This means we must comply with the planning guidelines in place at a particular time. The establishment of those planning guidelines is not within the remit of the NRA.

We will examine the outer route and establish what will be the impact, if we build it at certain locations or if it is of a particular size, on road traffic in terms of where it originates and its destination. We carry out cost-benefit analyses of specific projects but we do not carry out alternative studies to compare what would be the position if public transport investments were made in the areas in which such projects are based. I am not suggesting that this should not be done or that is not a valid consideration, which it is, but that is a wider brief than that given to the NRA.

On the question of tolling, we will examine that possibility but we are not even close to having enough information to make a judgment or to have a view as to whether the road would sustain tolling not to mention whether it would be sufficient to make it worth doing. The preliminary study will give us a first impression on that but, even then, it will be far short of being conclusive. There will be far more work to be done before we can definitively state that tolling would either work or would be required.

As regards the current planning guidelines and some of the issues raised, we will not carry out this study in isolation. Platform for Change referenced this outer route. It is not something that popped out of nowhere; it is part of Platform for Change. The DTO will be consulted closely on this. It will be involved in considerations as we go through the study and gather information. We do not plan to go off and carry out a roads-led NRA study without having regard to the views of the DTO or the local authorities. All local authorities in the areas in which potential routes will run will be consulted on their views. I hope the latter will be coincidental with what they hope to do in their planning and development plans.

Will it include a cost-benefit analysis?

Mr. Barry

It will include a cost-benefit analysis of the road.

The agency is examining the feasibility of also building a road over the Wicklow Mountains.

Mr. Barry

Some work carried out a few years ago suggested that such a route is most unlikely to be something we would want to do.

The recent planning guidelines indicate that such a road would go over the Wicklow Mountains.

Mr. Barry

If it goes that far. I should not try to prejudge what will emerge from this study, when completed.

It is being considered?

Mr. Barry

It will be considered. I expect there would be far greater traffic volumes involved and far more benefit to be gained from whatever might be done to the north and west rather than through the mountains. Traffic demand through the Wicklow Mountains is quite modest.

The road would run through either the Sally Gap or the Wicklow Gap. There are only two possible locations for it.

Mr. Barry

Or south of there.

Will the study also examine the possibility of putting in place an additional lane or two lanes either side of the existing M50 or could the motorway take such expansion?

Mr. Barry

No. This is not an M50 upgrade study.

It will be done independent of consideration of the M50 but part of the study will explore what traffic can be reduced on the M50.

Mr. Barry

Yes. It will recognise that the M50 upgrades will be in place long before this road comes, if it ever does, to fruition. From that point of view, it will have regard to what is happening on the M50. When I refer to the road being close to the M50 — I indicated that it might be 100 metres or so from it — I am being a little facetious and really talking about one that will be fairly close to, as against being further out from, Dublin.

I asked Mr. Murphy earlier about the principles which underpin the strategy for toll roads, particularly in regard to the fourth river crossing tunnel. He might forward to us the principles which underpin the decision to use a PPP, particularly in light of its size and scale, for that project. Would it possible to send us those?

Mr. Murphy

I can answer that question now. Size does not necessarily mean length. In normal road building terms, length moves linearly with cost. The Limerick tunnel is a massive immersed tube tunnel underneath the River Shannon and the scheme will cost €350 million approximately, which brings it into that order of size regarding innovation and construction.

The cost of €350 million is much larger that the figures I had heard up to now.

Mr. Murphy

That is about right when account is taken of this year's prices.

Given that this is within statutory process stage as outlined, can Mr. Murphy give us a timeframe from now until construction starts in terms of tendering and commencement of work? That could be given in writing to the committee secretariat in due course.

Mr. Murphy

I can briefly give the Deputy that information now. The statutory process in the note refers to the toll scheme. It has cleared all the statutory hurdles regarding the environmental impact statement and land acquisition. Tendering is under way for it. We expect to have a contract awarded in mid to late 2006, following which construction will start.

I can understand how traffic can build up in the mornings into Dublin city but how does it also become bottled up in the evenings when leaving the city when it should be filtering into side roads and not moving towards one central location? Surely there is some explanation for how it moves in the evenings. Should speed limits be increased to allow it move more quickly? I can appreciate that in the mornings there can be bottlenecks on the approach routes into the city but surely there is no excuse for such bottlenecks in the evenings when traffic is heading out of the city.

Mr. Barry

Perhaps I am missing the Senator's point but the traffic that comes in in the mornings goes back out in the evenings.

Yes but in the mornings it is coming from all over the country to one point while in the evenings it is heading out.

Mr. Barry

Once it moves beyond the M50 and the interchanges on the newer roads — other than areas such as the Naas Road which is still very busy — it dissipates quickly.

Therefore, the interchanges are the problem.

Mr. Barry

They are a big part of it. They were designed to cater for traffic levels way below current levels, irrespective of its direction.

The joint committee wishes to raise one final question with Mr. Barry before he leaves. When his predecessor appeared before us, we asked if we could receive quarterly reports on the progress being made on various road projects. Perhaps he could give us the first quarterly report by the end of June.

Mr. Barry

No problem.

Members may have queries on it. I thank Mr. Barry, Mr. Murphy and Mr. O'Connor for attending and being so forthright with us. I suppose their only requirement is money.

On Wednesday, 13 April, the joint committee will hear a presentation on the current operational and future strategic issues facing Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 April 2005.