Paul Melia tells us that Commuters from Meath to Dublin would each pay €2,000 per year
THE operator of the proposed M3 motorway linking Dublin to north Meath is expected to take in almost €590m in tolls over a 30-year period.
The is €13m more than the estimated €577m cost of building the 47km motorway, even though the company will not be expected to meet the full cost of construction.
Yesterday, an oral hearing into the proposed toll scheme was told that commuters travelling from Meath to Dublin would each pay over €2,000 a year in tolls, assuming they use the motorway.
Drivers using the full length of carriageway would pay a total of €2.60 at two toll booths, and the National Roads Authority expects 72,000 motorists a year to be paying tolls by 2024, of which 13,000 users will pay at both tolls.
The NRA said that based on tolls decided in 2000 - where a car using both tolls would pay a total of €1.75 - the toll revenue per year would be €13.2m.
However, given that the proposed charge when the motorway opens is €2.60 to use both toll booths, the likely operator - the Eurolink consortium - stands to take in some €586m during the 30-year concessionary period. The construction figure is not yet available as contracts must still be signed, but the consortium will bear some of the construction costs, with the taxpayer paying the rest.
Eurolink stand to make considerable profits during the 30-year arrangement.
Speaking at the oral hearing yesterday, the head of Public Private Partnerships and Tolling at the NRA, Gerry Murphy, said the proposed tolls
would be the lowest charge on the national roads network. Charges were "significantly below" levels that would maximise revenues, he said.
"A toll-charge sensitivity analysis indicated that a 20pc higher car charge at the southern plaza and at certain interchange ramps would increase revenues by the order of 25pc," he said.
"The NRA proposed instead to apply lower toll charges in order to reduce the diversionary effect.
"The charges proposed are less than the charges adopted by the NRA in toll schemes for the Waterford bypass, the Fermoy bypass, the Limerick tunnel, the M1 motorway at Drogheda and the Galway-Ballinasloe scheme."
There were angry scenes at yesterday's hearing as objectors to the tolling system - who include members of Meath Co Council - said the road would impose an unfair burden on commuters. The other objectors include members of An Taisce, local residents and conservation objectors to the motorway, which will run beside the Hill of Tara.
These groups said the tolls would result in drivers avoiding the motorway and lead to congestion on the existing N3.
There was also criticism that the hearing into the tolling scheme was only taking place yesterday, five years after the motorway was announced. The NRA said this was because of legal challenges to the motorway, which had to be concluded first.
"There should, of course, be no tolls," said Councillor John Barry of Meath Co Council. "Why, on a motorway from Dublin to Newry, is there only one toll? Why are two tolls proposed? The people of Kells will travel on the old road, as will people coming from Cavan."
Councillor Philip Cantwell said the toll was a "financial gathering exercise, pure and simple", and it was "bleeding taxpayers of their wages".
Counsel for the NRA, Dermot McGuinness, said an alternative untolled route would be available.
"People will be free to use the N3 as it exists. There will be considerable degree of toll-free access."
Inspector Dom Hegarty will send his report to the NRA board. He can recommend that there be no toll, in which case the NRA would have to pay the operator the cash equivalent of the toll every year.
The Irish Indo' has them anwering objections:
Tolls will place an 'unacceptable' financial burden on people living in Meath and commuting to Dublin.
The National Roads Authority says motorists will save time and benefit economically. Drivers can also use the untolled N3.
Scheme is already funded by the EU and National Development Plan.
The NRA says just €2.9m has been provided by the EU, and the NDP states the need for private finance to supplement exchequer investment.
Delays are likely to occur at toll plazas.
NRA says the plazas are designed so tolling will take a maximum of 30 seconds.
Tolling discriminates against Meath residents compared with people commuting into Dublin from other counties, and tolling will hinder local development.
NRA says economic development will be curtailed without the motorway.
Tolling will divert traffic onto local roads.
NRA agrees but says overall volumes will be reduced.
Meath county council will be obliged to maintain existing N3 once M3 opens.
NRA says the council will receive commercial rates based on the annual toll revenues collected