NRA expects port tunnel to be ready for use by summer


Contractors working on the Dublin Port Tunnel have warned that it may not be open to the public until the end of the coming year, writes Liam Reid, Political Reporter

The possible delay is linked to a dispute over work on the tunnel and arises from financial claims which threaten to push the cost of the tunnel above €1 billion.

However, the National Roads Authority has said it is confident that the final cost will be in the region of €750 million and that it will be open by the summer.

Dublin City Council, which is responsible for overseeing the project, has said it will be "vigorously disputing" any additional claims by the contractors, a consortium of Nishimatsu, Mowlem and Irishenco.

The consortium has put in a claim of additional costs in the region of €400 million. The claim has already been the subject of conciliation talks, which failed to result in agreement. It is now expected to go to arbitration.

As part of the negotiations, the contractors warned that, under existing arrangements, the opening of the tunnel could be delayed until the end of 2006.

However, a spokesman for the NRA said the work was now at a very advanced stage and the target opening was in early summer.

The NRA spokesman declined to discuss details of the claims by the contractors, but described them as "clearly excessive". He added: "There are ongoing discussions between officials and the contractors to have this resolved, but only on the basis that it results in an appropriate payment which maintains value for the taxpayer and achieves the earliest opening possible of the tunnel."

The tunnel is one of the last major road projects to be covered by a traditional contract entitling the contractors to submit additional bills for work not stipulated in the contract. The contractors face no penalties for delays or for traffic disruption.

Such contracts have been discontinued after a series of major road projects came in significantly above their budgets and with significant delays.

An 8km stretch of dual carriageway in the Glen of the Downs in Co Wicklow, which opened in late 2003, was delayed by more than 12 months and cost double the estimated €40 million.

These contracts have now been replaced by "fixed-price agreements", whereby contractors receive bonuses for early completion and are penalised for late completion or for causing traffic disruption.