Taxpayer gives €19.5 million to Limerick tunnel operators

The Limerick toll tunnel. Pic: Brian Arthur/ Press 22.
The Limerick toll tunnel. Pic: Brian Arthur/ Press 22.
The Limerick toll tunnel. Pic: Brian Arthur/ Press 22.

THE State has forked out €19.5 million in payments to the operators of the Limerick tunnel under a so-called ‘traffic guarantee’ clause.

The amount represents the total sum paid to DirectRoute (Limerick) since the tunnel opened in 2010; so far in 2014, the company has been paid €5.9 million of taxpayers’ money.

The traffic guarantee, which allows the company to be compensated if traffic volumes are lower than projected, is set to remain in place until 2041.

Limerick councillor Joe Leddin has called on newly appointed Transport Minister Pascal Donoghue to enter discussions with DirectRoute with a view to either removing the charge for HGVs (heavy goods vehicles), while also reducing the toll for other vehicles to increase traffic volumes.

“We cannot continue to spend an average of €6 million annually subsidising the private operators of the tunnel without at least examining the options available that would result in a greater percentage of cars and HGVs using the tunnel. In fact the State may benefit, because the traffic guarantee scheme would cost less arising from a higher throughput of larger vehicles, albeit for free,” commented the City West councillor.

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The Limerick tunnel has been a particularly poor performer in terms of traffic numbers.

Cllr Leddin said that the original estimate of traffic volumes in excess of 19,000 vehicles a day had not materialised, with only around 14,000 vehicles currently using the tunnel daily.

When the toll was waived for HGVs for a month in November 2013, the number using the tunnel increased by 70 per cent, rising to 37,000 trucks, compared to 22,000 in November 2012.

The NRA was then directed to examine ways to encourage HGVs to use the tunnel, rather than travelling through Limerick city. It is expected to meet with Minister Donohoe in September.

“The pilot introduction of a no charge policy in November 2013 proved that motorists will respond if there is some incentive,” added Cllr Leddin.

“Another option is that the City and County Council introduce a ban on all HGV vehicles above a certain size from entering the city, which would obviously benefit and increase the traffic volumes using the tunnel.

“The current debate about the attractiveness of our city centre is not helped by increased traffic congestion, pollution and associated health and safety issues posed by large HGVs driving through on a daily basis”, the Labour Party councillor concluded.