Rising traffic levels on the main road networks in the greater Dublin area and a swell in demand for residential property surrounding the capital are pointing to the resurgence of a boom-time growth in the commuter belt.
Over the last three years, car and train journeys have been steadily increasing while auctioneers say difficulties in accessing housing in the capital – exacerbated by Central Bank lending restrictions – is forcing more Dubliners to look elsewhere for affordability.
This week, a report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) warned that price differences between property in and outside Dublin have reached levels on par with pre-recession levels.
Similar pre-boom purchasing patterns “may re-emerge if affordable housing is more readily available outside Dublin . . . resulting in unsustainable long-distance commutes,” it said.
Auctioneers in commuter belt centres are noticing between half and two-thirds of buyers are from the city.
"Growth in Dublin was like an unmanaged garden; one has the sense again of uncontrolled economic growth," said Conor Faughnan of the AA.
The motoring organisation anticipated the problem in 2014 when it said congestion and traffic levels were at their worst “since the financial crisis in 2008” and forecast a possible “return to the ‘bad old days’ ”.
"The M50 is busier than it has ever been and all of the roads that lead into the M50 are busier than they have ever been," Mr Faughnan said.
“On the one hand it’s good to be prospering again. But our vulnerability is again underlined and the frustration is that at a policy level there appears to be a collective short-sightedness.”
Traffic volumes, one indicator of commuter activity, have been creeping upwards. Rates are measured by Transport Infrastructure
(TII) using an “average annual daily traffic” guide based on mean daily volumes over the course of the year from a number of measurement points on the route.
Vehicle numbers at the M1 business park between Dublin and Drogheda have risen from 51,543 in 2014 to 53,397 so far this year.
At one section of the M2 between Dublin and Ashbourne, a figure of 23,362 in 2014 reached 24,976 this year, while the N11 from Dublin to Greystones increased from 45,783 to 46,180.
There was growth midway on the M4 between Maynooth and Dublin (52,389 to 52,796) and on the N7 between Naas, Sallins and Dublin (73,902 to 78,757).
A decrease was recorded on the M3 between Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne in Co Meath and Dublin, dropping from 19,523 to 19,225.
Commuter train journeys have also been on the rise, although, so far, this may be more a reflection of employment as of population increase.
Journeys on the Drogheda line from 2013 to 2015 grew from 4.4 million to 4.7 million. There were similar increases for Maynooth (3.3 million to 3.6 million) while the
line, taking in Sallins and Naas held firm at about 2.2 million. Dart journeys by contrast have shot up from 15.6 million to 17.2 million.
Much of the omens are reflected in real estate demand. Laura Sherry of Sherry Property Drogheda said it has noticed a pick up in the last six months and estimate between 50 and 60 per cent of inquiries for areas like Drogheda, Bettystown and Laytown are from Dublin-based buyers.
A typical three-bed semi there costs in the region of €200,000 far short of Dublin prices.
To the south of the belt, Sherry FitzGerald director Gordon Lennox has noticed a similar trend in Greystones with demand stretching as far as Gorey, Co Wexford.
A recent phase one launch of a 180-house development in Greystones attracted 2,800 people to a showhouse over just two days.
Much of the drive, Mr Lennox said, is due to mortgage lending caps.
“Rather than spending the extra year saving for that elusive extra 10 per cent, they are starting to look outside the commuter belt,” he said.
“We are beginning to see the danger of that coming in again, of people going out to get what they perceive to be value in the commuter belt.”