Original cost of M50 toll bridge unknown

THE Government did not even know how much it cost to build the controversial M50 toll bridge before it agreed to a €600 million buyout of the operation in 2008, it has emerged.

The Department of Transport secretary general, Tom O’Mahony, has also revealed how the Government was at a loss as to how much the private company behind the project, National Toll Roads (NTR), had originally invested in the operation before agreeing to a deal which would ensure the company received a €1.15 billion return on its investment.

Under the 2008 deal, the Government agreed to a staggered compensation package which, when added to 18 years of toll revenues, will ensure NTR earns €1,155,786,122 from the traffic-blighted carriageway by 2020.

In a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, Mr O’Mahony also said a six-month trawl of various state agencies had failed to find a figure for how much the toll bridge actually cost.

“In response to our requests, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government provided the relevant files and documentation held by them relating to the original West-Link bridge.

“We also obtained copies of relevant papers held by the National Roads Authority. However, in our search of those files, no data was found relating to the final construction costs of the West-Link bridge.”

The department has said it recently carried out an extensive search to confirm whether the original toll bridge over the River Liffey actually cost the €35m which private consultants suggested it did.

No state authority involved had a record of the 1987 construction budget which led to NTR building the bridge.

Mr O’Mahony went on to reveal that the original contract with NTR was signed by the then assistant city and county manager of Dublin, George Redmond. It has emerged the former head of NTR, Tom Roche Snr, had given a £10,000 donation to Mr Redmond for his help in obtaining the land.

Since the original contract was signed, Dublin County Council was split into three local authorities. Mr O’Mahony said none of these had any record of the construction costs and the department had to rely on the word of DKM consultants who looked into the costs of the bridge five years ago. “We made written enquires of the three local authorities to ascertain if they held any information relating to the initial costs of the original West-Link bridge.

“However, the authorities responded that they do not have the relevant information. In the circumstances, the only figures known to the department are those in the July 2005 DKM report,” said Mr O’Mahony.

He said the only party who knew how much was spent on the bridge was NTR and the department did not have power to access the information.

Public Accounts Committee chairman Bernard Allen said it will refer the matter to the Department of the Environment. This will be dealt with, most likely, at hearings this autumn.

NTR was not contactable last night.

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