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A Motorway to Nowhere

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 15th, 2011 at 03:52:28 AM EST


Poulaphouca reservoir

In Driving a dual carriageway through my home I documented the extraordinary process by which planning officials proposed to build a motorway standard road from the outskirts of Dublin to Hollywood - a village with a few hundred dispersed inhabitants, two pubs and no shop. At a personal level, I was obviously not happy that one of the proposed alternative routes was to go right through my home, and two others were due to cut my brother-in-law's dairy farm in half. But the bigger problem was that I could see no logic in building the road in the first place.

The planning team have now produced their Public Consultation Stage 2 Route Corridor Options Drawings and have invited public comment on them. The good news is that none of the new proposed alternative routes now impact as much on the scenic Poulaphouca reservoir Special Protection Area (and also effect my own home and my brother-in-Law's farm much less drastically). Perhaps the arguments in my submission to the Council (based on my diary) had an impact after all - despite my misgivings about the process.

However the bad news is that the planners have still not produced any cost benefit or environmental impact study for the project as a whole - on the grounds that these will vary depending on the final route chosen. This is of course true at the marginal cost level.  My big problem is that a lot of public resources are being expended on designing a route when I can see no sustainable cost benefit for the project regardless of the final route chosen. Some will doubtless be marginally less expensive or deleterious for the environment than others, but where are the benefits?


The planning team accept that traffic on the route has continued to decline - partly as a consequence of the economic down turn - and also that oil prices are only going to up in the longer term - putting a premium on public and more efficient means of personal and goods transport. The expansion of Blessington as a commuter town has halted, and many of the gravel quarries in the area which provide much of the local commercial traffic are coming close to the end of their working lives.

There are issues with road safety at specific junctions, but none which would require the building of a completely new road. Road traffic deaths in Ireland have halved in recent years, despite a huge increase in traffic volumes, and Dublin has the best record of reducing traffic related deaths within the EU in recent years. There were 212 road deaths in all of Ireland in 2010 compared to 415 in 2000 and a peak of 640 in 1972.  There is no room for complacency, of course, and every effort should be made to address specific black spots.  However there is no evidence that the N81 from Dublin to Blessington is particularly unsafe in this regard.

Interestingly, having previously asserted that their brief was confined to designing a completely new route, the current planning team (which is much changed since last year) have now included the possibility of upgrading the existing road as one of their route selection options. This is undoubtedly the best option for much of the route between Brittas and Blessington, although it must be conceded that there is no good option for improving the route between Tallaght (Jobstown) and Brittas because of the configuration of the hills and the steep gradients involved.

The other problem area is Blessington itself, as the town nestles between the scenic area of Glen Ding (with its Viking fort) and the Poulaphouca reservoir, and there is little room to accommodate a major road within those parameters.  The obvious solution is to upgrade the currently very under-utilized inner relief road and extend it both north and south onto the N81 on the outskirts of the town .  Unfortunately the planners seem fixated on creating a motorway standard road which is not possible within that confined area despite the fact that the traffic volumes (6,000 vehicles per day south of Blessington) in no way justify a motorway standard road.

As a consequence they are forced to propose building a very large loop around the town (PDF alert)  - with two options either side of Glen Ding - which will detract from that scenic area and add considerably to the cost and the overall distance which has to be travelled.  In fact such a convoluted route will ensure that the road is of no benefit to Blessington area residents  who will be much better off simply using the existing N81.  Its primary benefit will therefore be for those travelling up from Baltinglass (Pop. 2,000, distance 31 KM) and Tullow (Pop. 3,000, distance 50KM) neither of which are exactly large metropolitan areas or growth centres in terms of the National Spatial Strategy.  In fact Tullow is already much better served by the M9 motorway if you do want to get from there to Dublin in a hurry.

So why are we in the process of planning such a useless route to a very sparsely populated area at a time of great national austerity?  The main reason is probably simply one of bureaucratic inertia.  Someone decided, way back in the Celtic Tiger era, that all national routes should be upgraded to motorway standard.  At a time of booming population, economic, and traffic growth, that might even have made sense in a lot of instances.  However that motorway network is now largely completed and we are now left with the most marginal of remaining non-upgraded routes with the most tenuous of economic justifications. Planning departments have to justify their continued existence however, and thus the most marginal of projects are kept on life support.

That does not mean, however, that there is no chance of this project proceeding to the construction stage. Sooner or later the EU and the Irish government will realise that continuing austerity programmes just lead to a divider effect (the opposite of the multiplier effect) and suddenly there may be a rush of European Investment Bank funded "shovel ready" projects designed to try and revive the corpse of the Irish economy. If the N81 upgrade project succeeds in surviving long enough to make it onto that list of shovel ready projects, it may end up being approved on the Keynesian principle that digging holes and filling them up again can help revive an ailing economy.

Unfortunately all talk of long term strategic planning and environmental impacts will then be banished in the rush to try and provide some short term employment.  I will not reiterate here the many reasons I listed as to why this scheme makes no sense at all in my original submission. At least these phase 2 route selection proposals avoid some of the more egregiously damaging aspects of the project, particularly around the scenic areas of the Poulaphouca lake.

But why do parameters set in 1998 still have to determine everything we do now? By all means develop a new Tallaght to Brittas route, fix the difficult junctions between Brittas and Blessington, and extend and enhance the existing Blessington inner relief road into something more useful for everyone concerned.  But a Motorway to Nowhere should not be on anyone's agenda.  It is a solution in search of a problem.

Display:
I humbly suggest if the planners really want to improve the local economy they construct the road such that it runs into a river.  The local emergency response crews would get extra work.  The local tow trucks and car repair shops would get extra work.  The local legal industry would receive a boost by everybody suing everybody else.  The local rent-a-car establishments would benefit.  Various local shops would get additional business from the forced stay-overs.  The hospital would get more Insurance money from longing stays.

In a larger context, the automobile industry in Ireland would receive a boost as people used the insurance money to replace their vehicles.  News media would find their sales increasing as more people bought their product(s) to follow the inevitable controversy.  And so on and so forth.

I beg to suggest: this proposal would be a major Win.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Thu Jul 14th, 2011 at 02:09:30 PM EST
Even better: build canals along the road. This will provide more jobs, irrigation, as well as all the advantages you list. It works in the Netherlands.
by gk (g k quattro due due sette "at" gmail.com) on Thu Jul 14th, 2011 at 02:22:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An especially interesting suggestion given that the road rises from near sea level to c. 800 feet. Think of all the locks and lock keepers required!  There was however a Tram which traversed the route which was closed in 1932. When it comes to public transport, we have been going backwards for a long time.  However the Luas has just been extended to Saggart at the Tallaght end of the Route... and could be extended to the Blessington/Naas area...



Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 14th, 2011 at 02:37:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now that's good looking transportation!
by sgr2 on Thu Jul 14th, 2011 at 03:48:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Regrettably our hospitals are already over-crowded, our courts are chock-a-block with lawyers fee incentivised proceedings, we don't have an auto-mobile industry, our newsmedia manufacture lots of stories without the need for reality intrusion, and the local hotel has closed.

When it comes to digging holes, we already have that process off pat.  CRH will even fill them in again for you using radioactive hospital waste as infill. Pity about the lake which is the major water source for Dublin...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 14th, 2011 at 02:31:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Pity about the lake which is the major water source for Dublin...

Since all of the planners and politicians spend a lot of time in Dublin it should give you and your brother great pleasure to take your animals down to the lake where all can have a satisfying piss.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 14th, 2011 at 06:06:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well we don't actually do that, but it is a a beautiful spot to wander and the wildlife gives it a touch of magic.



Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 14th, 2011 at 06:36:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Kildare National Roads Design Office is proposing to build a new motorway standard road from Tallaght to Hollywood through some of the most scenic countryside in Ireland in the Slade Valley, Blessington Lake and Glen Ding areas. Ordinarily one would welcome any proposal that would generate even temporary employment in these troubled times and there is no denying that existing roads need upgrading particularly at Jobstown, the Embankment, Crooksling and Brittas.

However traffic volumes have been falling along the route in recent years partly due to the economic downturn, but also due to the fact that many quarries along the route are nearing the end of their productive lives. Although the Phase 2 route selection proposals just published for public consultation now thankfully avoid the immediate environs of Blessington Lake, they will still be very destructive of existing homes and farms and will remove even more of what is left of the Glen Ding hill and woodland overlooking Blessington.

This is despite the fact that the inner relief road within Blessington was never completed to connect to the N81 at roundabouts north and south of the town and has  been grossly under-utilised as a result. It cannot be effectively used as a bypass of the town because there is no right turning lane or roundabout for it travelling south on the N81 at Blessington, and the onward connection back to the N81 south of the town was never built.

There simply is no need for an additional motorway standard road around and beyond Blessington because traffic volumes are falling, and Hollywood (population 500), Baltinglass (population 2,000 and distance 30 KM) and Tullow (Population 3,000 and distance 50 KM) are the only towns further along the route and even these are not included in the National Spatial Strategy as population growth centres. Indeed the Tullow area is already served by the M9 motorway for travellers or heavy goods vehicles who want to get to Dublin in a hurry.

All the possible routes proposed for the new motorway are convoluted and much longer than the existing N81 and will thus be of benefit to very few travellers. Most will simply continue to use the existing N81 which, with a few junction improvements and minor upgrades and an extension of the Blessington inner relief road is more than adequate for any realistic projections of future traffic levels.

The motorway proposal is a hangover from the Celtic Tiger era when there seemed to be no limits to public spending or population, economic and traffic growth, oil was plentiful and cheap, and carbon footprints were almost unheard of.  It is being perpetuated by road planners who need to justify their existence but have simply run out of viable new motorway projects to pursue.

Why are we wasting money on planning such crazy developments and ignoring much simpler, more cost effective, and less environmentally destructive alternatives? It is time our planning systems took account of our changed economic circumstances and started planning for a more sustainable and lower carbon emissions future.  

And if we do want to dramatically improve our public transport infrastructure, an extension of the Luas beyond Saggart to the Naas/Blessington area would be a good start.  After all Blessington did have its own tram service until 1932.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 15th, 2011 at 05:20:37 AM EST
However traffic volumes have been falling along the route in recent years partly due to the economic downturn end of the boom, but also mainly due to the fact that many quarries along the route are nearing the end of their productive lives.

Changed to emphasise the non-temporary nature of this volume drop.

The motorway proposal is seems a hangover from the Celtic Tiger era when there seemed to be no limits to public spending or population, economic and traffic growth, oil was plentiful and cheap, and carbon footprints were almost unheard of.

Sharpened the focus on the fact that the justification is no longer there (I am not sure we want to associate the later years of the Celtic Tiger with "unlimited public spending"). Also, you cannot prove that the proposal is a holdover from the previous economic era - but you can prove that it sure looks that way.

It is being perpetuated by road planners who need to justify their existence but have simply run out of viable new motorway projects to pursue.

I would think very hard about whether I would want to make this accusation. If the point is simply to emphasise bureaucratic inertia, there are ways to phrase it that will not rub the people who make the decision you want to influence quite as much the wrong way.

Why are we wasting spending money on planning such crazy developments an entirely new road, and ignoring when overhauling the existing infrastructure is much simpler, more cost effective, and less environmentally destructive alternatives? It is time our planning systems took account of our changed economic circumstances and started planning for a more sustainable and lower carbon emissions future.

And [I]f we do want to dramatically improve our public transport infrastructure, an extension of the Luas beyond Saggart to the Naas/Blessington area would be a good start.  After all Blessington did have its own tram service until 1932.

Toned down the accusations, emphasised the technical and logistic superiority of your alternative proposal.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Jul 15th, 2011 at 07:57:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks Jake - will send revised draft.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 15th, 2011 at 08:37:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Kildare National Roads Design Office is proposing to build a new motorway standard road from Tallaght to Hollywood in west Wicklow (Population 500)  through some of the most scenic countryside in Ireland in the Slade Valley, Blessington Lake and Glen Ding areas. Ordinarily one would welcome any proposal that would generate even temporary employment in these troubled times and there is no denying that existing roads need upgrading particularly at Jobstown, the Embankment, Crooksling and Brittas.

However traffic volumes have been falling along the route in recent years partly due to the end of the boom, but also due to the fact that many quarries along the route are nearing the end of their productive lives. Although the Phase 2 route selection proposals just published for public consultation now thankfully avoid the immediate environs of Blessington Lake, they will still be very destructive of existing homes and farms and will remove even more of what is left of the Glen Ding hill and woodland overlooking Blessington.

This is despite the fact that the inner relief road within Blessington was never completed to connect to the N81 at roundabouts north and south of the town and has been grossly under-utilised as a result. It cannot be effectively used as a bypass of the town because there is no right turning lane or roundabout for it travelling south on the N81 at Blessington, and the onward connection back to the N81 south of the town was never built.

There simply is no need for an additional motorway standard road around and beyond Blessington because traffic volumes are falling, and Hollywood, Baltinglass (population 2,000 and distance 30 KM), and Tullow (Population 3,000 and distance 50 KM) are the only towns further along the route and even these are not included in the National Spatial Strategy as population growth centres. Indeed the Tullow area is already served by the M9 motorway for travellers or heavy goods vehicles who want to get to Dublin in a hurry.

All the possible routes proposed for the new motorway are convoluted and much longer than the existing N81 and will thus be of benefit to very few travellers. Most will simply continue to use the existing N81 which, with a few junction improvements and minor upgrades and an extension of the Blessington inner relief road is more than adequate for any realistic projections of future traffic levels.

The motorway proposal is a hangover from the Celtic Tiger era when there were inflated population, economic and traffic growth expectations, oil was plentiful and cheap, and carbon footprints were almost unheard of. It is time our planning systems took account of our changed economic circumstances and we started planning more useful, sustainable and cost effective projects.

If we do want to dramatically improve our public transport infrastructure, an extension of the Luas beyond Saggart to the Naas/Blessington area would be a good start. After all Blessington did have its own tram service until 1932.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 15th, 2011 at 09:17:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They have just recovered the Dundrum Road from the Dodder at Milltown to the village, thats about 1.25 miles. There wasn't much wrong with it in fairness, I drive it every day. Now they have dug up the concrete path in Dundrum village and replaced it with an identical concrete path. Again, there wasn't much wrong with the old one.
Last year they spent 10 months completely resurfacing the Churchtown Road, purely to add a bus lane. Only one bus uses this road, the 17 which travels about four times a day. Has Jackie Healy Ray been parachuted into my constituency without me noticing, or is this some new facet of council madness?  
by Gerard de Dub on Sat Jul 16th, 2011 at 07:29:49 AM EST
There are plenty of secondary roads throughout the country badly in need of repair - and for which no funds are allegedly available.  Road maintenance is the responsibility of local councils rather than the NRA=National Roads Authority, so that is probably where your query should be directed. Do you have a powerful local FG TD?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 16th, 2011 at 08:11:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's get real on any new motorway plans - Letters, Opinion - Independent.ie

he Kildare National Roads Design Office is proposing to build a new motorway standard road from Tallaght to Hollywood in west Wicklow (population 500) through some of the most scenic Irish countryside in the Slade Valley, Blessington Lake and Glen Ding areas.

There is no denying that existing roads need upgrading, particularly at Jobstown, the Embankment, Crooksling and Brittas. But the motorway proposal is a hangover from the Celtic Tiger era when there were inflated population, economic and traffic growth expectations.

It is time we started planning more useful, sustainable and cost-effective projects. An extension of the Luas line beyond Saggart to the Naas/ Blessington area would be a good place to start.

Frank Schnittger
Blessington, Co Wicklow



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jul 18th, 2011 at 05:34:23 AM EST


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