Traffic in Dublin is set to slow down to an average speed of eight kilometres an hour in the next few years, a new report predicts.
And car exhaust pollution is going to cause an alarming level of respiratory and other illnesses as well as obesity.
The average speed in urban areas in the the morning peak hour in the capital will have dropped from the current 13kmh to 8kmh in 2016, an official Government report reveals.
The grim scenario also predicts that with a population of five million, car ownership could increase to beyond EU average levels.
The Department of Transport report obtained by the Irish Independent reveals that greenhouse gas emissions from transport could increase to 19 million tonnes of CO2 -- a 265pc increase over 1990 levels.
Under the Kyoto agreement Ireland is allowed to increase its emissions by only 13pc.
The report concludes that such increases in traffic, pollution and health damage are not acceptable or sustainable.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey is said to be determined to warn the public of the 2016 scenario and get people to leave their cars at home and switch to public transport.
The minister is going to launch a new public consultation process on the issue of sustainable travel and transport early in the coming weeks.
A discussion document is almost ready to be published.
It has to be signed by Cabinet before being published to kick-start the public consultation phase.
The minister's aim is that by June of next year a clear, detailed sustainable action plan will be in place.
His vision is that by 2020 Ireland will have one of the best transportation systems in the world, which will go a long way to tackling the problems.
But according to Mr Dempsey we cannot get to that point by relying on Transport 21 initiatives alone and cycling, walking, flexible work arrangements and car pooling will also have to be involved.
Once the public consultation phase is over, a detailed plan will be drawn up.
A public information campaign will be launched similar to the Power of One campaign or the Race Against Waste.
Mr Dempsey says the plan is about getting people out of cars and into public transport, walking and cycling.
He said: "If we keep our current travel patterns by allowing business as usual and let cars continue to pour onto our streets then traffic congestion will increase, quality of life will fall, economic progress will be impacted negatively and our greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow."
According to the report:
- The total number of private cars licensed may increase from 1,800,000 to 2,600,000 by 2016.
- Car use will continue to increase and the share of walking and cycling of the total commute will continue to decline.
- Average speed in urban areas in morning peak hour in Dublin will have dropped from 13kmh in 2006 to 8kmh in 2016.
- Increased dependence on cars will contribute to obesity.
- Traffic pollution will cause increasing damage to health and contribute to acute and chronic diseases.
- There will be increased congestion, which could lead to a decline in competitiveness.
- Energy supply could be "fragile" as a result of continued dependence on imported fossil fuels in the transport sector.
Between 1996 and 2006 there was unprecedented economic growth which saw Ireland's GDP double.
Population also increased by 17pc from 3,630,000 to 4,240,000
There was a 115pc increase in total road freight vehicle kilometres travelled and a 250pc rise in total tonnes carried.
There was a 38pc increase in the number of private cars per 1,000 adults from 382 to 528, still below the EU average of 558.
Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent