Secretary General of the Department of Transport Julie O’Neill told the Public Accounts Committee yesterday that the junction - mockingly referred to as the ‘Mad Cow Roundabout’ - was the busiest traffic intersection in the State and acknowledged there were difficulties with the 70,000 vehicles that passed through it each day.
She told Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins and Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte that a new layout for the junction was in the planning process and the Department was awaiting proposals from the National Road Authority in relation to finance.
The proposed changes will include flyovers and underpasses that will ensure a free flow for vehicles travelling on the N7 to Limerick, Cork and Waterford, while reducing the amount of traffic crossing the path of the Luas tramway which will also use the junction.
Ms O’Neill said that work on the new layout could begin as early as Spring, 2005, and be competed by the Spring, 2007.
However, under questioning by Mr Rabbitte who described the Red Cow situation as a ‘cock-up’, Ms O’Neill said that, when originally planned, the forecast for traffic volumes could never have envisaged the huge increase of car usage.
“What took everybody unawares was the huge increase of growth in Dublin traffic and the expansion of Dublin beyond its core.”
Ms O’Neill was also questioned about the controversy over increasing the height of the Dublin Port Tunnel. She said that the report from the consultants was to hand in the Department, but it had asked for extra information on costs and the possibility of raising the height.
She said the number of heavy goods vehicles that would benefit from a height increase would be very small, no more than 1.5% of all truck traffic.
The height restrictions, she said, had been in accordance with best international practices and restrictions in place elsewhere in Europe. Ms O’Neill added that, generally, there were safety questions in relation to the use of such ‘super trucks’ on the wider road network in Ireland.
The PAC, under chairman John Perry, was inquiring into the Departments appropriation accounts for 2002. The Comptroller and Auditor General, John Purcell told the meeting that the Dept had failed to reconcile monthly statements from the paymaster-general with Transport’s own accounting records for almost a year. “That left the Department in a vulnerable position. If there had been certain types of fraud, they would not have been detected. That in itself is a huge risk,” said Mr Purcell.
Ms O’Neill said that the Department had only come into being after the June elections that year.
She attributed the difficulties to the merging of different Government departments, the loss of experienced staff, and prolonged sick leave among key staff.