IRELAND HAS 2.5 times more kilometres of motorway per head of population than Britain, according to extensive new research into our 'ghost roads'.
The Sunday Tribune has obtained details of a research document which was compiled for the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport Ireland (CILT) which argues that Ireland's road-building plans are based on boom traffic levels that no longer exist.
The country's road network has transformed over the last decade, with the motorway system expanding by 430% between 2001 and 2009. Environmental groups such as the Plan Better group – a joint initiative of An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment and Feasta – say that the collapse in traffic volumes on our roads during the recession has left us with a series of 'ghost roads' and some proposed roads will not be needed for 40 to 50 years.
Dr Miles Deas, one of the co-authors of the research for the CILT, has been campaigning against plans for a stretch of motorway from Oilgate in Wexford to Rosslare Harbour and believes that the government should reassess its road-building programmes.
"The harsh realities that now face us, and budgetary restrictions, should have inevitably impacted on the road development aspirations of Transport 21," he argued. As the government's four-year economic plan states that "no project has been cancelled" and "projects can commence as funding becomes available", Deas believes we should overhaul the methods used to appraise and design road schemes for the future.
His report explains: "Analysis of the NRA's [National Roads Authority] last two years' national traffic flow data shows a 7% fall in traffic. This is not surprising. What is disturbing is that future road schemes are being designed on the basis of old forecasted traffic growth of 2-3% year on year. This explains the deserted nature of some of our newly opened roads. Facts that are available paint a different picture."
The CSO Road Freight Transport Survey 2009 showed a 40% fall in road freight carried from the previous year to levels lower than in 1999. The Irish Bulletin of Vehicle and Driver Statistics 2009 showed a 62% fall in new vehicles registered in 2009 compared to 2008. "These are all parameters used to model future traffic growth and they have all drastically changed since traffic was last modelled in Ireland to provide traffic-growth forecasts," said Deas.
According to the Plan Better group, the NRA could face a bill of over €100m of tax-
payers' money to compensate the consortiums that built road projects such as the M3 Clonee to Kells motorway. It opened last year and has been dubbed a 'ghost road' as it is not reaping its expected toll revenue due to the fall-off in traffic volumes.
Deas argued that Ireland should take note of the UK system where the traffic model is run annually and constantly refined to increase accuracy.
"More modest road construction would allow more equitable roll-out of roads. To have expanded the road network with so many four-lane roads during the boom was aspirational; to continue during such an unprecedented recession in the absence of economic and traffic justification is folly."