Transport 21

November 15th, 2007 - Pat Breen

SPEECH ON TRANSPORT 21 – DAIL EIREANN 14TH NOVEMBER 2007

Deputy Pat Breen: I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this important topic. I have seen few changes in the road between my constituency and Dublin over the five years that I have been travelling it regularly. According to the Transport 21 website, the plan is to develop “. . .the capital investment framework through which the transport system in Ireland will be developed, over the period 2006 to 2015. This framework will address the twin challenges of past investment backlogs and continuing growth in transport demand”. There is a significant backlog in infrastructure in our small country, for example, we do not have a large railway network catering for every town so our road network is important. I commute weekly between Clare and Dublin and one would expect to find a dual carriageway at least from Limerick to Dublin by now. The National Roads Authority, NRA, is widening the road at the Nenagh bypass to make it a dual carriageway. If this had been a few years ago when the Nenagh bypass was opened taxpayers’ money would have been saved. Now bridges must be expanded. The only motorway on that road is from Portlaoise to Dublin, which is a short distance.

Most car accidents happen on national secondary or regional routes. Although motorways and dual carriageways are safer we have not invested in our roads in the past 20 or 25 years as we should have to keep pace with the increasing number of vehicles. A few years ago I was in Portugal with the Ceann Comhairle where we met Mr. Barroso, who was then Prime Minister and is now President of the European Commission. He said that Portugal invested heavily in roads, rather than other projects, in the 1970s and 1980s, which has paid off.

Roads are important for attracting industry to the regions, creating sustainable development and to keep people living in an area. Poor roads will not encourage people to live in rural areas, they will instead move to urban areas. That is part of the problem we face in County Clare. There is a dual carriageway from Bearfield to Limerick but the Ennis bypass which should have opened in 2004 is not yet completely open. I welcome that it is partly open and has eased gridlock in the town. The dual carriageway was opened last January yet two critical link roads, which are important to the town, have not been opened at Clareabbey in Clarecastle and on the Tulla road. A link road should have been built on the Tulla road but that is not part of the plan.

We should have a broad vision when building roads and look to the future. The transport sector is the fastest growing contributor to our national rate of greenhouse gas emissions. A few years ago there was only one car per house, now most households have two or three cars. Our infrastructure has unfortunately not kept pace with that development. We all know how slow travel is now between towns. A few years ago I could travel in ten minutes from my house to Ennis, now it takes 15 to 20 minutes because of the gridlock.

If we are to take cars off the road it is important to improve public transport. According to the 2002 census 62% of people use the car to get to work compared with 45% in 1986. The number of people driving their cars to work has increased by 50% in that period.

[Deputy Pat Breen]

This is a worrying trend and if public transport was available commuters would use it.

The reopened Ennis to Limerick railway line has been a success. It was closed in the 1960s, briefly reopened in the 1970s and since then it has been upgraded. Trains on the line are full in the mornings and evenings, there are seven commuter services per day and the reopening has been an overnight success.

I raised the subject of the western rail corridor with the Minister for Transport in many adjournment debates and he made a commitment last year that the Ennis to Athenry section would be opened in April 2008. It is unlikely that the Government will achieve this, yet this is only part of the western rail corridor and I understand that about two miles of rail has been laid at Craughwell in Galway at this stage. A great deal of hard work will have to be done if this section is to be opened by April 2008. I welcome the fact that the section is scheduled to open in 2008 but I think it will be 2009 when it happens. At that point there will be a railway network linking Limerick, Ennis and Galway, three major urban areas and two large cities. This will facilitate many people, not only morning commuters but third level students in both cities.

I also welcome the fact that a railway station is to be built at Sixmilebridge in County Clare, which will help commuters in what is now a large urban area that has seen a great deal of development. I would have liked to have seen more work done on the Shannon spur but I do not think that will happen in the near future. The Limerick tunnel, which is supposed to open in 2010, has also seen delays.

There is an airport in Shannon and we need good roads to attract industry and visitors. Dublin Airport is clogged with traffic and difficult to access; by comparison Shannon Airport is convenient. If the road network was opened up as far as Mayo and Donegal Shannon would have a huge catchment area, would see significant growth and would not experience the problems that it currently experiences..

Unfortunately, this Government has abandoned regional development. Very little of the money set aside for Transport 21 will go towards rural Ireland, somewhere around 1% or 2% of its budget or €30 million. I could say far more on Transport 21 but my time is up. I welcome the fact that Bus Éireann is to run a service in Ennis. I urge the Minister to facilitate that company in gaining a licence to allow it provide the service.