We’ve had ghost estates and zombie hotels.  Now it seems we have phantom roads.  Well at least under-utilised roads.  This wouldn’t be too bad in the sense that a nice open road is more pleasant to drive on that one that’s chockerblock, but the problem is that these are PPP toll roads that require a certain level of usage otherwise payment penalties kick in.  Plan Better – a joint initiative of An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment and Feasta – have published data that shows that M3 traffic (21,500 per day)  is 22% below the penalty payments level (26,250) and the Limerick Tunnel (13,500 per day) is 26% below the penalty payments level (17,000) on the Limerick Tunnel.  If these traffic levels were to persist then over the lifetime of the PPP contracts the state (i.e. taxpayers) would owe the toll operators over €100m.  Plan Better make a case that the NRA has made a fundamental mistake in applying a growth only model of traffic demand on the Irish roads network and they’re calling for a review of the projections used to justify future road building including the proposed motorway between Oilgate and Rosslare (N11/N25), and upgrades to routes such as Blarney to Patrickswell (N20), Clontribret to Moybridge (N2), the Ballyvourney motorway (N22), Abbeyfeale to Clonshire (N21), Kilmeaden to Midleton (N25), Ashbourne to Ardee (N2), and Tuam to Letterkenny (N17).  Of course, we would expect traffic to fall off during a recession and to pick back up again as the economy recovers, but on the basis of Plan Better’s analysis it does seem like a recalibration of the models used to justify road building might be due given the drastic changes to Ireland’s economy in the past couple of years, especially given the pitfalls of PPP penalties and the pressure to reduce capital spend.  It might well be the case that we need upgraded roads, but we have little need for gold-plated phantom ones (see also this post on Irish Economy).

Rob Kitchin