The M50 - a ‘highway to hell’

Throwing more roads at the problem of congestion would only increase traffic levels and reinforce car dependency

With eight lanes for much of its length the M50 is Ireland's biggest road and one of its most congested. Some of its regular commuters share their stories.

 

Bumper-to-bumper traffic has turned Dublin’s M50 motorway into a “highway to hell” for many road users. With economic recovery and rising employment, the six-lane orbital route is now carrying nearly 143,000 vehicles per day, a 30 per cent increase on the figure for 2009. As Simon Carswell reports today, new data shows people are hitting the road earlier or returning home later, to beat the worst of the traffic. This means rush hours are lengthening and the gap between them is busier too.

When the M50 was first mooted in the 1970s, it was planned as a “national bypass” of Dublin, catering for motorists and truck drivers travelling from, say, Galway to Wexford. But it soon became clear that its main function was to serve as a distributor road for traffic originating in and around the city itself, especially after Dublin began leap-frogging all over Leinster and even parts of Ulster. What we are living with now is a result of the abject failure of successive governments – primarily Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat coalitions – to curtail this Los Angeles-style sprawl.

No doubt we will hear demands from the motoring lobby for the Government to prioritise a new outer orbital route to relieve congestion on the M50. But throwing more roads at the problem would only increase traffic levels, reinforcing car dependency, when what’s really needed is integrated public transport. That’s why the Dart Underground inter-connector between Heuston Station and Docklands is so vital – much more so than Metro North – because it would join up all existing suburban rail services, giving commuters multiple choices to get to work by public transport.

Congestion on the M50 is a metaphor for the concentration of economic activity in the capital. This profoundly negative trend can only be changed by focusing population and employment growth elsewhere, particularly in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. But the Government’s draft National Planning Framework, as currently cast, is unlikely to achieve balanced regional development or relieve the intolerable traffic conditions on Dublin’s new “main street”.

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