The National Roads Authority has ruled out the introduction of tolls on the Jack Lynch Tunnel.
A spokesman for the NRA yesterday moved to ease concerns after it emerged it plans to outsource the tunnel’s operation and maintenance to a private operator.
He said tolling is a policy decision made by government and is separate to the NRA’s role in the operation and maintenance of the state’s roads infrastructure.
“Tolling is entirely a policy decision led by government,” the spokesman said. “Tolling, and the operation and maintenance issues, are two separate operations.”
He pointed to a statement from Leo Varadkar, the transport minister, earlier this year that stated there will be no new tolls during his time as minister.
The clarification came following the NRA’s decision to outsource to a private operator the tunnel’s annual €2m operation and maintenance contract which has been carried out by Cork City Council for the last 13 years.
The NRA told the council “it would be advantageous” to include the operation and maintenance contract for the Lee tunnel with that of the Dublin Port Tunnel, which is already run by a private operator.
“We believe that combining the operation of the Jack Lynch Tunnel and the Dublin Port Tunnel into a single operations contract will bring efficiencies and related savings as compared with the individual cost of operating both tunnels independently,” the NRA said.
The NRA emphasised that its decision “is no way a reflection” on the management of the tunnel over the last 13 years.
Councillors raised concerns that the NRA’s move was the first step towards the introduction of tolls, and that they would lose the ability to influence the timing of tunnel closures and maintenance works.
But the NRA spokesman insisted that business interests in the Cork region will continue to have a say on those issues. “The works will be done in co-operation, not in isolation, as has been done in the past.
“We will still work closely with Cork City Council on implementing maintenance timings and scheduling.
“There will be consistent consultation with the local engineering experts and gardaí,” he said.
Cork Chamber chief executive Conor Healy welcomed the NRA’s move, especially if it results in cost savings and efficiencies for the taxpayer. He also said he is confident the concerns about tolling are based purely on speculation.
A major transport survey in 2011 of the chamber’s 1,000 members, who employ 95,000 people in the Cork region, showed that 68,000 drivers would be penalised every day and congestion chaos would ensue throughout Cork City and its suburbs if the tunnel was tolled. The cost of the congestion and delay was estimated to be in the order of up to four times the revenues generated by any toll.
DUBLIN Port Tunnel
* The €752m, 4.5km twin-bore tunnel, which was the state’s largest roads transportation project, opened to traffic on Dec 20, 2006.
Part of the M50, it links Dublin Port to the M1, and takes trucks travelling to or from the port out of the city centre.
Transroute International, part of France’s Groupe Egis, was appointed by the NRA to operate the tunnel for five years, with an optional renewal of two years.
Transroute set up a subsidiary, Transroute Tunnel Operations Ireland, to oversee the contract, which provides for operation, maintenance, safety, traffic management, and toll collection.
All commercial vehicles above 3.5 tonnes, buses with more than 25 seats, and vehicles driven by disabled drivers can use the tunnel toll-free.
Tolls, which range from €3 to €10, apply to cars, taxis, motorcycles and car vans/light commercial vehicles under 3.5 tonnes.
Tunnel operations, including tolling, employ between 50 and 60 people. The service contract is worth €15m to Transroute over the five-year period.
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