We’ve gone off the rails and opted for road to ruin

ACCORDING to Eileen McCarthy of Arup (Irish Examiner, July 9), the Cork-Limerick motorway will save 70 lives over a 30-year period, based on 35 fatalities in 20 years on the roads which it would replace. But this simplistic calculation works out to 52.5 lives saved, not 70, and assumes no one will be killed on the motorway.

All things being equal, motorway-type roads are less dangerous, but all things are not equal. Road-building generates increased traffic volumes, with accident ‘migration’ to other roads and risk compensation taking place.

Vehicle speeds are higher on motorways, and British studies on fatalities are inconclusive. Obviously there are no pedestrian and cyclist fatalities because they are banned – these accidents are ‘transferred’ to other roads.

Anyone genuinely concerned with saving lives would be proposing a moratorium on road-building and redirecting the money into rebuilding the railways. In Britain, in the entire 150-year history of the railways, a total of fewer than 3,000 passengers have been killed in train crashes, a mere fraction of those killed on the roads every single year for the past 100 years.

On a broader basis, more traffic means more illness and death from pollution and more CO2 emissions accelerating global warming.

The exponential growth in traffic in Ireland, doubling every 15-20 years (every 5-10 years in China and India) is incompatible with the decrease in global oil reserves of 6.7% per annum.

Without a fundamental change in policy, barring a miracle, a complete societal collapse will ensue; the only question open to doubt is when. In terms of energy per tonne-km, railways are 10 times as efficient and use electricity that could be generated by renewables or nuclear. They are our only hope.

The motorway craze started in Nazi Germany, spreading to the US and Europe and only belatedly to Ireland.

We could have leapfrogged this lunacy and instead of ripping up 9,000km of our railways, leaving 3,000km remaining, we should have extended and modernised the system to 50,000km of hi-tech automated lines taking passengers and freight to every town and village, with trams and underground railways in cities and 300km/h intercity trains. But the remnants of our mainline system are not even electrified and the Dublin tram line stupidly has a gap in the middle.

As usual, in the Bord Pleanála hearing, the road lobby skilfully sets each group of opponents against each other – these hypocritically demand the motorway be built elsewhere. Motorways are destructive wherever they are built.

For Arup to talk of motorway planning 30 years into the future would be risible if it were not so tragic – global oil production will have decreased by between 30% and 50%, whereas the projected demand for oil is 150% by 2040.

By then, our motorways will be as useful as the stone heads of Easter Island and equally fitting monuments to mass delusion and short-term planning.

Michael Job


Co Cork

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