The Irish Times tells us that the Government has agreed to buy out the tolled West-Link bridge on the M50 motorway at an estimated cost of €600 million, Minister for Transport Martin Cullen has confirmed.
Mr Cullen confirmed the proposal had been agreed at this morning's Cabinet meeting.
Following a year of discussions with the toll bridge operator National Toll Roads (NTR), the Government agreed to pay the company €50 million a year, plus inflation, for each of the years 2008-2020.
There will be no "golden handshake" for the toll operator, which signed the contract for the West-Link in 1987, Mr Cullen insisted.
Mr Cullen said that 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, would be the direct beneficiary of the tolls. The bridge will revert to the State from mid-2008.
"This is being done in order to develop and manage the M50 and to provide the best possible service to motorists," Mr 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."
Mr Cullen said all of these measures, along with improvements in Luas, bus and Dart services, would help resolve the issue of congestion on the M50.
"The NRA will be enabled to introduce other measures at the toll point to encourage better use of the M50 at off peak times, which will help address the problems of congestion on the M50," he said.
"These developments together with the recent award by the NRA of a contract for the development of the new barrier free tolling system, represents significant progress towards the upgrading of the M50."
"Clearly the interchanges are a very significant issue," he said.
He had always made clear that the full upgrade of the M50, currently underway, in conjunction with barrier-free tolling, was the "key element" in reducing congestion.
The Minister will shortly outline how the barrier-free toll will work, including penalties for motorists who seek to evade the charges.
Revenue from the tolls will be used to fund the annual payments to NTR.
A number of issues remain outstanding in relation to the contract, Mr Cullen said. However, he said these did not include the question of giving NTR tax indemnity on the annual payments and he did not expect they would delay the conclusion of the agreement.
Mr Cullen said indications are that the introduction of restrictions on HGVs entering Dublin city since yesterday was going well, despite some difficulties and increased delays on the M50 yesterday. He attributed some of the delays to crashes and incidents on the motorway.