Protests blocking the Dublin Tunnel have major implications for the safety of the entire road network of the city, Dublin City Council’s head of traffic has said.
People opposing the use of an office block to accommodate refugees in East Wall have been preventing traffic from entering the tunnel and have vowed to continue their protest at least three times a week until their demands are met.
Brendan O’Brien of the council’s traffic department said the action would increase the risk of injuries on the road in East Wall and the wider city.
“The port tunnel is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure in the city because it removed so many large vehicles from the city streets and the increase in safety that has brought,” he said.
Following the opening of the port tunnel in 2007, the council prohibited heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) with five axels or more from using the city streets between 7am and 7pm. The introduction of the HGV cordon was followed by a dramatic increase in cyclist numbers in the city.
“So many more people are walking and cycling since the port tunnel opened and we introduced the HGV cordon, that for the port tunnel not to operate is a serious safety concern,” Mr O’Brien said.
The protests have not resulted in the lifting of the five-axel ban in the city, a decision which is taken by gardaí, not the council, Mr O’Brien said, but some hauliers have been illegally using the city streets to avoid the disruption.
“Five and six-axel vehicles have not been allowed on to the streets during the protests, but some are diverting anyway,” he said. “The concern is not only five and six-axel vehicles. Four-axel vehicles, which are allowed in the city, do now use the port tunnel and they’re maybe more likely to use city streets if they think they’re going to have to queue for the tunnel.”
Mr O’Brien said this may not be the best use of their time. “If the tunnel is closed for 10 or 15 minutes you would be better off waiting in the queue.”
The ongoing disruption and the associated increase in traffic both from large vehicles and cars could have a severe impact on the surrounding area and on the wider city, he said.
“It affects the city and that whole area – the whole East Wall area and the roads heading to the East Link Bridge to the south, and then to Fairview and Malahide to the north. It’s a key area.”
If the protests escalated to such an extent that the HGV cordon had to be lifted, there would be very significant concerns for the entire city, particularly for the safety of vulnerable road users, Mr O’Brien said.
“Putting 5,000-6,000 vehicles back on the city streets, particularly of that size and nature would be an enormous worry,” he said. “In addition we have taken a lot of the road space and allocated it to public transport and for bicycles. So it would also cause additional delays and an enormous knock-on effect on public transport.”
A spokesman for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), the State transport agency responsible for the operation of the tunnel, said it was working closely with gardaí in relation to the protests.
“This is primarily a public order event,” he said, “but we are co-ordinating with gardaí to maintain the safety of the Dublin Tunnel.”
TII is engaged in “scenario planning” to minimise disruption. “Any time an event interrupts the functioning of the Dublin Tunnel it has an impact on the rest of the road network,” he said.
Dublin Port Company said it had no comment on the issue.