AN TAISCE has called on the National Roads Authority (NRA) to stop using “false data” showing continual traffic growth to justify its major roads programme when its own figures show that traffic levels are actually falling.
The figures for 90 stretches of motorway and other national roads were abstracted by An Taisce from the authority’s traffic counts, which are publicly available on the authority’s website (www.nra.ie), and cover the period 2007 to 2010.
“The NRA’s own network of automatic roadside counters shows that traffic has fallen 7 per cent over the last two years,” An Taisce said. “This downward trend is accelerating, with a 4.3 per cent drop in the last 12 months compounding a 2.6 per cent fall the previous year.”
Yet the authority was still using a “wildly inaccurate” traffic growth multiplier dating back to August 2003, which assumed that traffic would continue to grow by 2 to 3 per cent annually “year after year” to defend its plans for some 850km of new roads.
An NRA spokesman conceded that traffic “has declined since the recession began”, but said the roads in its programme were “designed for a 20- to 30-year economic benefit . . . with the best available data”.
An Taisce said Bord Pleanála had refused planning permission for an “over-scaled” scheme in Co Mayo for 19km of dual-carriageway between Bohola and Ballina and called for a “more modest” proposal “because the NRA failed to justify the project on traffic grounds”.
It said over the past year 22,000 households had shed at least one car, based on the number of vehicles taxed at the end of 2009.
“As oil becomes a comparatively greater cost burden, more people will be looking to buses, trains and shared cars.
“Not alone is the NRA ignoring the data showing falling traffic, it also seems to have cocked a determined blind eye to reports . . . that the era of cheap oil is over and that unprecedented economic, social, and political costs are likely to accompany future oil price increases.”
The volume of traffic on Irish roads was likely to fall even further, according to An Taisce, which warned that the prospect of building “ghost roads” based on erroneous NRA projections “is very real as time nears to sign contracts on a number of routes”.
These motorway/dual-carriageway schemes include a south Wexford motorway and new routes from Blarney in Cork to Patrickswell, Co Limerick; Gort to Tuam, Co Galway; Clontibret, Co Monaghan, to Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone; and Ashbourne, Co Meath, to Ardee, Co Louth.
“When will the NRA stop using false projections to make it appear more motorways are needed?” An Taisce asked, saying 850km of new roads were “a charter for gross misspending” when what Ireland needed was a national public transport plan, “not legacy projects . . . from a boom time”.
It claimed the NRA was proposing to borrow “close to €9 billion” for its roads programme.
“This would place a further mountain of debt upon already crippled taxpayers, compounding stress already faced by those that continue to have work.”
It said projections from the US “show that total vehicle distance travelled may contract sharply in coming years, up to 41 per cent by 2030 according to one assessment” (by Bomford this year).
“We cannot easily predict whether or to what extent this may be mirrored in Ireland.”