Abbeyleix locals express concerns over air and noise pollution

Residents call for suspension of toll fees as high number of HGVs travel through town

Transport Infrastructure Ireland confirmed 43,256 vehicles are driving through Abbeyleix, Co Laois,   each week, 4,300 of which are heavy goods vehicles.  Photograph: iStock

Transport Infrastructure Ireland confirmed 43,256 vehicles are driving through Abbeyleix, Co Laois, each week, 4,300 of which are heavy goods vehicles. Photograph: iStock

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Residents of Abbeyleix, Co Laois, have expressed concerns over air and noise pollution as significant numbers of heavy goods vehicles continue to travel through the town, despite it being bypassed by a tolled motorway since 2006.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland confirmed 43,256 vehicles are driving through the town each week, 4,300 of which are heavy goods vehicles.

More than a year ago, residents raised concerns about the fumes from the high number of HGVs using the town’s main street. Local campaigners are now calling on Laois County Council to suspend toll fees in order to encourage motorway use.

Local GP John Madden said the high cost of the toll means drivers are using the town as a “rat-run” making it a “hostile and forbidding place”.

He voiced concerns about the long-term health implications for residents. Stalled vehicles emit pollutants including fine diesel particulate matter which he explained “can bypass body defences leading to serious health risks including cancers (lung and bladder), cognitive impairment and heart attack”.

“The whole basis for bypassing a town is being completely undermined in our experience. Traffic incidents, the breaking of red lights, road rage and possible serious pedestrian injury or even death are all real possibilities. We need to do something now.”

Robbie Quinn of Main Street, Abbeyleix, and chairperson of Abbeyleix Tidy Towns, said while the town would not survive without passing vehicles, how traffic uses the town needs to change. However, he said the town shouldn’t assume the problem only has one source.

He believes the installation of traffic sensors and an ongoing origin/destination traffic study will provide the data that will help in further discussions: “Once we have all of this data and the study findings, we can get to the real heart of the problem and try to find solutions that work for everyone.”

Andy Ring, owner of Irish Heritage Towns and a local resident who has been campaigning for a solution to the high number of HGVs, said living on Abbeyleix’s main street is a “nightmare”. He explained that having spoken to the Irish Road Haulage Association, the reason drivers use the road through Abbeyleix is because “it’s shorter, quicker and cheaper”.

Toll fees

Following contact with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, he said the solution for Abbeyleix is “black and white”. Drivers of HGVs should be given free toll access, as in Dublin Port, he said. “It’s a matter for Laois County Council.”

A spokesperson for Laois County Council said that suspending toll fees is not a decision for the council, stating, “Laois County Council has no control in setting the toll fees in question.”

It added: “Prior to the development of the M7/M8, 2,300 HCVs drove through Abbeyleix daily, in 2019, 650 HCVs drove through Abbeyleix. It is Government policy to have marked routes as alternatives to tolled routes. The N77 through Abbeyleix is an alternative route to the tolled route.”

Representatives from the Abbeyleix community have been in regular contact with Minister for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett, who last year sent a letter to Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan, and leader of the Green Party, outlining the town’s concerns.

Senator Hackett told The Irish Times that while she has spoken to Laois County Council and the Environmental Protection Agency about the issue, she has not suggested a solution as she does not believe there is a “silver bullet”.

She acknowledged the view that drivers are using the town to avoid tolls but added that if this is the origin of the problem, research which is underway will highlight this: “I am using my voice as Senator to amplify the wishes of the community to reclaim the streets from the toxic entanglement of traffic. I am really pleased that my questions are starting to reap responses in the form of data which will inform action; mine and others.”

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