State paid toll firms €5.2m on two routes

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

The State paid €5.2 million in 2011 to toll operators on two routes because traffic volumes fell below contracted levels, the Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday.

The National Roads Authority (NRA) made the payments in respect of the Clonee-Kells motorway and the Limerick Tunnel, both built under public-private partnership.

Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy told the meeting that even if actual traffic volumes grew by an average of 2.5 per cent a year, the NRA would continue to make traffic guarantee payments until 2025 in the case of Clonee-Kells and for the next 28 years for the Limerick Tunnel.

Questioned by Galway East TD Paul Connaughton, NRA chief executive Fred Barry said companies had been unwilling to bid for the tenders without a guarantee of minimum traffic volumes.

Risk-sharing

Mr Barry said for 2012 the shortfall on toll revenues was shouldered two-thirds by public private partnership and one-third by the State. Without risk-sharing, the State would be shouldering the entire risk.

Non-payment of driver tolls, the committee heard, amounted to €2-€3 million a year in lost revenue, over half attributable to non-resident drivers.

The secretary general of the Department of Transport, Tom O’Mahony, said motor tax evasion costed the State an estimated €54 million a year.

Of the evasion, which runs at about 5 per cent in the Republic versus 0.7 per cent in the UK, Mr O’Mahony said his department was exploring incorporating motor tax monitoring into speed cameras.

Asked by Limerick East TD Kieran O’Donnell why the Department of Transport ordered 51 train carriages in 2008 as the economy was slowing, when 21 were now unused, Mr O’Mahony said 12 of the 21 were required as out-of-service back-ups. However, he said “there are nine to the value of €20 million we now know we could have done without”.

Irish taxpayer

Mr O’Donnell said the Irish taxpayer was now “picking up the tab and this shouldn’t have happened”.

Committee chairman John McGuinness accused CIÉ of “sticking their heads in the sand” in responding to the issue.