Wasting money on roads?

A number of stories on roads funding have been in the media over the last few weeks.

Firstly, Frank McDonald in a piece in the Irish Times had a go at the motorway building programme of the NRA. In particular he criticises the plans for the Slane bypass (N2 Dublin to Derry). That story was also picked up in Today FM’s Last Word (Matt Cooper) last Thursday.

The rationale for the bypass project involving a new bridge over the river Boyne is straightforward. Currently a significant volume of traffic of which about a quarter is HGVs (some 1600 per day) negotiate the steep valley on both sides of the river which is crossed via a narrow bridge. The nature of the roads has been blamed for a number of serious accidents involving HGVs, and hence the bypass is to be built to reduce accidents.

But why are there so many HGVs on a road connecting Ashbourne (population 6500) with Ardee (population 4000)? The answer is simple once on considers that the N2 runs almost parallel to the tolled M1, which is both quicker and safer. In other words the HGVs are on the N2 to avoid the toll, and now the tax payer is going to help them avoid the toll by building a new expensive bridge and dual carriageway. The simple, cheap and obvious solution to the problem of HGVs going through Slane is to ban them from doing so, as I argued in May 2009. This would also avoid all the hassle of forcing a major construction project through an area rich in archaeological sites and historic significance. I wonder is this a case for the Comptroller and Auditor General?

Secondly, on the 22nd of February Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey announced €411.408 million for 2010 Regional & Local Roads Programme. Of course the Minister did not announce any extra resources, rather he is reprofiling expenditure that was to go to road improvement. Given the damage to many roads due to the flooding in the autumn and the frost over the winter most people will welcome these resources.

But is this money going to be well spent? When it comes to potholes it is curious how they always appear in the same places, and often they are back soon after they were filled. Likewise, the same stretches of road (surprisingly many for a country where rain is not uncommon) are also subject to flooding on a regular basis, with consequent road damage. It is also peculiar that our road surfaces melt at the first sign of the sun (even over recent poor summers), again leading to significant damage.

In that context engineering and material standards should be reviewed in order to minimise future damage and costs before spending €400 million on repairing roads.

I am not against spending money on roads – anyone who has read my work on public investment will know that – but we should make sure we use the scarce resources we put into roads to best use.

By Edgar Morgenroth

Professor of Economics at Dublin City University Business School

20 replies on “Wasting money on roads?”

I wonder will the new N2 be tolled too in line with many other similar newly constructed roads. If so whither then the HGVs? In the meantime we could have been building something we really need.

Edgar, why not simply a toll (for HGVs only) at Slane, on the existing road? That would shift the through-traffic back to the M1 pronto. You can’t ban local delivery.

@ George – this is not going to be a motorway and from what I can sse it is not going to be tolled. Even if it were tolled, I would contend that we do not need it and that it would be too costly. A toll will never be able to recover the costs – the major cost is the bridge. Currently there are just 6400 vehicles going through Slane. A dual-carriage way will have five times that capacity. Ultimately we need on good network and not two paralel networks.

@Colm – yes that would do it too provided the toll is higher on the N2 than the M1. You can’t ban local deliveries but you could apply the same rules as apply in the city centre in Dublin.

By the way on the Last Word someone argued that banning HGVs is a local authority issue but the national routes are the NRA’s business and since they can’t enact a ban the bypass needs to be built!

The tolling scheme for the M1 was supposedly designed by the NRA to maximise traffic attraction to the tolled route, taking into account analysis suggesting that HGVs were unlikely to divert via the N2 because of the toll charge. If this objective is not being attained, presumably there’s a need to revisit the M1 tolling scheme for HGVs.

@ Edgar
One area that needs harsh light and a strong microscope is Local Authorities abilities for road building, road repair and an intelligent system.
There was a load of money sent in decades ago from the EU and probably put the kibosh on cost efficiency forever!

All I know is that most of our existing roads are a national disgrace and those responsible for their maintenance cleary aren’t on any kind of performance related bonus. Or they were and have now had their pay cut reduced.

When roads are properly built they last longer. Check out the autobahn system. Concrete. I hate the concrete lobby but their roads last longer, but maintenance jobs are lost.

Lower costs vs jobs for the boys!

Badly built roads also cost lives. But in a depression, that reduces unemployment…..
Voters are far too impulsive and their votes are easily bought. That costs them money and it flows to those who provide these solutions…

@ Pat Donnelly – you are right, properly build roads last longer, but they don’t need to be concrete. In fact most German autobahns are not concrete these days. The local roads in Germany have also suffered during the long winter but when they are fixed they seem to last.

We can’t afford to waste money any more so we should look into doing things right.

Ban the HGVs going through Slane is the only sane policy.

Sadly the Comptroller and Auditor General is to the best of my knowledge only allowed investigate once the money is spent.

Project evaluation is dominated by politics not economics – which is hardly surprising but explains everything about why “we are where we are”.

@Mark Dowling – you are right, a principle set out by the NRA for the roll out of the PPP road programme is that toll-free alternatives must be available, but that does not mean these have to be national roads. With about 4700 km of roads in Louth and Meath there are plenty of (inconvenient) alternatives. If you look at the situation in Dublin, trucks are essentially forced onto the M50 due to the HGV ban in town.

This is an interesting issue that pops up in other countries too. For example there are universal tools for HGVs on German motorways, which were introduced due to the high level of transit traffic. Many trucks are now diverting onto smaller roads to by-pass the electronic tolls.

Your common-sense comments on the N2 are very welcome. We will be quoting you at the oral hearing.

I think the County Manager, Tom Dowling, is refusing to implement the HGV ban that was voted for by the Councillors last year, so as to pressurize the Bord into approving the bypass, and also to prevent the real traffic needs being revealed

Meath Chronicle: Council to close Slane Bridge for structural investigation

Controversy over Slane bypass proposal

I propose that the M1 should be toll free for HGV’s as is the Poirt Tunnel. This would prevent the HGV’s diverting from the M1 at Dunleer to the N2 at Collon. It would also attract all the HGV’s on the N2 North of Ardee to divert via the N33 on to the M1.
The loss in revenue would negate the need for an expensive bypass.

In this and in another of Mr. Morgenroth’s blogs, he has been asked how the proposed HGV ban (which Meath County Council have pronounced unworkable) would be implemented. Where would the rerouted lorries go? Who will police the ban and how much would such policing cost (bearing in mind that Slane only has a part-time Garda presence). What is to happen with local deliveries, including Grasslands and Roadstone lorries? What does he propose for east-west Navan-Drogheda HGVs which have to route through Slane?

Slane bridge is a 600 year old single-lane bridge, designed for horse and carriage traffic. It is patently unsuitable for HGV traffic. Even if those HGVs which are diverting through Slane to avoid the toll on the M1 were taken out of the equation, heavy traffic from Grasslands and Roadstone, HGVs travelling from Navan to Drogheda on the N51, along with local deliveries to businesses in Slane, would still have to use an unsuitable bridge and a road with a very steep incline which lorries have to negotiate in crawl gear.

Simply stating that the HGV ban SHOULD be put in place, without explaining the means to make it possible to do so, and without addressing all the serious issues which at present prevent the HGV ban being put in place, is tautology and quite a blatant fallacy.

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