Potential new M50 tolls revealed today

Study on 'demand management’ was a condition of planning permission

Locals authorities in the Dublin region will be briefed today on four potential new locations for tolls on the M50.

New tolls on any of Ireland’s existing motorways were ruled out by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar in January 2012, on the basis of the amount of time they would take to install, traffic volumes and “a combination of cost and common sense”.

However, a study on the potential for “demand management measures” on the M50 was a condition of the 2005 planning permission for the upgrade of the route, including the installation of new lanes. The study was to be published within three years of the upgrade, which was completed in 2010.

The roads authority is understood to be planning to publish the study in September, as is required. As drafted, it strongly favours tolls to help avoid renewed congestion. The new tolls could also effectively double the M50 toll income of about €100 million a year, some €60 million of which is still being paid to the bridge’s former owners, National Toll Roads.

Unlike any other motorway in the State the M50 has the traffic volumes and the infrastructure to deploy new tolls comparatively quickly. While growth in traffic volumes across the State have not risen as much as predicted in 2005 when planning permission was granted, traffic volumes on the M50 have grown by 26 percent since 2008, bucking a recessionary trend, helped by strong exports.

In addition while annual average daily traffic of more than 100,000 vehicles cross the existing toll point north of the West Link Bridge, the actual number of weekday trips on the entire motorway is about three times this number at 320,000 vehicles per day - indicating a cash strapped Government could have a cash cow on its hands.

The study has found that if traffic on the M50 continues to grow, within 10 years congestion would again be commonplace. Without the intervention of demand management measures, the functionality and safety of the M50 would deteriorate, journey time reliability would diminish and this would have knock on negative consequences on economic activity, it concluded.

The new toll points which would be on overhead gantries are; between the Ballymun and N2 junctions; between the N4 and N7 junctions; between Firhouse and Ballinteer junctions and between Sandyford and Carrickmines junctions. The existing toll point between the N3 and N4 would remain in place.

The study also recommends variable speed limits throughout the day and the encouragement of “smarter travel” by local authorities - although this latter measure is acknowledged to be likely to affect just one to two percent of road users.

Dublin city, Fingal, South Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown county councils will be given the findings this morning. Of key interest will be where diverted traffic will go, and the potential for a reemergence of suburban congestion.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist