| The West-Link Toll Bridge was constructed at a cost of IR30 million - €38 million - and was opened to traffic in March 1990. The bridge is the second highest in Ireland and forms a major link in the Dublin M50 motorway system to Dublin Airport. The bridge, which traverses the River Liffey at the Strawberry Beds, is 385 metres in length with its highest elevation above the river at 41.5 metres. West-Link now handles more than 100,000 vehicles per day compared with the original projection of traffic in 2020 of 45,000 vehicles daily. |
Fred Barry, the Chief Executive of the State agency National Roads Authority (NRA), told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee in early 2006, that lawyers had advised the NRA that the 1987 contract was so vague that there were no remedies to take NTR to task on issues such as the standard of service.
Former EU Commissioner Padraig Flynn and disgraced ex-planning official George Redmond, signed the controversial deal for the operation of the West-Link Toll Bridge with National Toll Roads Ltd, in August 1987.
The Government said on Tuesday night that it plans new legislation to strengthen its power to levy stiff fines on any toll-evading motorists when barrier-free tolling is introduced on the West Link bridge after the €600 million buyout of the bridge from National Toll Roads (NTR).
Minister for Transport Martin Cullen said he wants to enact legislation to put a new fines regime on a "proper legal basis" before the Dáil rises for the general election.
Cullen received Government approval yesterday to conclude the buyout of the controversial contract that entitles NTR to run the bridge until 2020.
While "one or two outstanding issues" remain to be agreed in the Government's talks with NTR, the Minister said the central strands of the buy-out arrangement have already been settled. Formal agreement is expected within weeks.
NTR's involvement with the West Link will cease from mid-2008. The group will receive annualised payments of €50 million plus inflation for the period from August 2008 until April 2020.
At today's prices, the deal will be worth a little under €600 million to NTR.
The budget for the French consortium who will design the new tolling system, is €113 million, which will bring the total cost in public funds to €713 million - about the cost of a port tunnel or Luas tram line.
The Government hopes that the combination of barrier-free tolling, a third lane in each direction of the M50 and a "free-flow interchange" system at junctions into the motorway will relieve traffic congestion.
"By buying out the West Link Bridge - which is used by 100,000 vehicles a day - the State and the travelling public, rather than NTR, will be the direct beneficiary of the tolls. This is being done in order to develop and manage the M50 and to provide the best possible service to motorists," Cullen said.
"The buyout will allow the removal of the toll plaza on the West Link and its replacement by a barrier-free tolling arrangement along the same stretch of motorway in 2008. This will coincide with the completion of the M50 upgrade on the section between the Ballymount and N4 interchanges."
A French consortium has been selected to operate the barrier-free tolling system.
Cullen rejected suggestions that tolls would be levied at various points on the M50, stating that tolls would be levied at the bridge for as long as there were no alternative means of public transport available.