May M50 traffic reached record high of 3.5m


TRAFFIC ON THE M50 reached a record high of 3.5 million vehicles in May, an annual rise of 3 per cent. This equates to roughly 110,000 vehicle journeys per day.

The increase has come as something as a surprise, as the recession had resulted in a decline in traffic in recent years, particularly in HGV usage.

According to a spokesman for the National Roads Authority (NRA), traffic patterns suggest much of the increase is due to changed journey patterns in response to low congestion on the radial route following the completion of the upgrade and the switch to barrier-free tolling.

The increase in traffic volumes has prompted a renewed focus on a demand management strategy for the route.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council has, on behalf of all the councils through which the M50 travels, commissioned a demand management study from Roughan & O Donovan consulting engineers/AECOM for the M50. This report is due to be completed next year.

This study was a requirement under the environmental impact study for the M50 upgrade and it will set an acceptable level of service for the route.

Following the upgrade, the M50 has an effective capacity of around 160,000 vehicles per day, but congestion starts to impact at much lower traffic levels – between 120,000 and 130,00. Part of the reason for this is that certain parts of the route, namely where the M1, M4 and M11 join, are already heavily trafficked. The M4/M7 junction was at 120,000 vehicle journeys per day in 2010 and volumes have increased since then.

If the economy rebounds and the M50 continues to attract traffic from other routes, congestion on key junctions could become an issue within three to five years.

Sean O’Neill, a spokesman for the NRA, said it was important “to avoid repeating the sins of the past”, when the route became clogged and inefficient. He said there was neither the land nor the finance to expand capacity on the M50 again so policymakers had to manage the route.

“The M50 is a vital infrastructure channel. Demand management is the future. How it is implemented is a decision for Government.”

There are three broad demand management tools: using varied toll charges to regulate demand, in much the same as the congestion charge operates in London; improving public infrastructure, such as park and ride facilities; and, the final option, providing an alternative option for M50 traffic, including curbing the flow of vehicles on to it from the M4, M7, M1, and M3. The proposed outer orbital route, which would have run outside the M50, has been shelved.

Given the time required to deliver major infrastructure projects, it is likely that tolling will have a role in demand management on the route.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar recently ruled out any new tolls on the M50 while he remains in office. This decision followed consideration of a report into motorway tolling by Roughan & O Donovan/AECOM which was submitted to the Department last year and released following a Freedom of Information request.

The report suggested three new tolling points on the M50, along with ramp tolling on the Ballymun interchange, and the imposition of a maximum daily toll charge level.

This report examined tolling primarily from a revenue generation perspective and concluded that multi-point tolling on the route could yield between €32 million and €60 million in additional annual revenue, after operating costs and taxes were deducted.

The report estimated that it would take approximately two years from the date of a ministerial direction for any new tolls on the M50 to be introduced.

The National Roads Traffic Management Study, which looked at demand management across the national road network, concluded that tolling has a role to play in demand management and is also in keeping with EU policy in that it represents a move toward the “user/polluter pays” principle.

This report also found that by using tolling to manage traffic demand, future capital spending requirements can be deferred or eliminated.