Limerick tunnel may be made free for HGV traffic

Dáil told Government paid tunnel, M3 toll operators €7.85m for reduced traffic

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar: said the situation was flawed from an economic perspective. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar: said the situation was flawed from an economic perspective. Photograph: Alan Betson

Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 01:00

The Government is considering making the Limerick tunnel toll-free for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar told the Dáil.

He said the State had last year paid €5.2 million to the Limerick tunnel toll operator under the “minimum traffic guarantee clause” agreed when the tunnel was built. A further €2.65 million was paid to the M3 motorway toll operator.

The State pays toll operators who developed roads to compensate for fewer vehicles using them than expected.

The Minister said it would be cheaper for the Government to pay the toll and make it free for HGVs to use the tunnel. In the “toll holiday” last November, 20 per cent more trucks went through tolls, but in Limerick the increase was 70 per cent.

He said one way to reduce the guaranteed payments would be to have the Government “paying the tolls and making it toll-free for HGVs to use the Limerick tunnel”.

“Even though the Government would then have to pay the tolls the trucks would have paid to the company, the fact more trucks would be going through would reduce the traffic guarantee.”

Independent Catherine Murphy had asked how much the Government had to pay the Limerick tunnel and M3 tunnel operators. She asked if the Minister had investigated the situation in Portugal which in 2010 managed to end the practice of paying toll operators for less traffic using tolls.

Mr Varadkar said the situation was flawed from an economic perspective. However, “in fairness to the previous administration, most people at the time believed the economy would continue to grow and very few predicted the scale of collapse that occurred”.