With schools returning this week Irish towns and cities are preparing for the seasonal return of traffic jams. AA Roadwatch is forecasting that traffic congestion is likely to improve significantly and that the coming ‘traffic season’ will be the lightest that we have had in many years. This is because we have a general reduction of traffic in the economic downturn and because the road building programme has eliminated key blackspots.
“Two main factors are in play.” Says AA Roadwatch Controller Nicola Hudson. “Firstly, there is the downturn. Car traffic on our roads has reduced by 4% since 2008, and more notably the volume of trucks is down by almost 13% according to NRA data. Secondly, there have been very significant infrastructure improvements which have come on line in recent months.”
Ireland now has 738 kilometres of motorway, and 188 kilometres of that opened in 2010. More important than the length of motorway is the elimination of key bottlenecks and the completion of inter-urban connections. These include the connections between Dublin and Cork, Galway, Waterford and (by the end of the year) Limerick. Major pinch points that used to cause so much frustration, such as Abbeyleix, will disappear off the map in terms of traffic jams.
One of the most significant changes will be the completion of the M50 upgrade, due on Wednesday of this week with the opening of the last parts of the M50 / N3 Blanchardstown interchange.
“This means that the busiest interchanges on the M50, the N4, N7 (Red Cow) and N3 Blanchardstown junctions, will all now be free flowing.” Says Hudson. “The motorway now also has three lanes in its busiest locations. The M50 traffic volumes are actually rising, but the road is better able to cope.”
“The M50’s Westlink toll bridge used to be the worst traffic bottleneck in Ireland.” Says Hudson. “Motorists are still paying tolls but the barriers, and the traffic jams, have gone.”
The completion of the Dublin to Cork Motorway linking the two major cities in the Republic is very significant. The new Limerick Tunnel opened in July, bringing major relief to areas of the city like the Dock Road. Likewise the new bridge in Waterford will bring significant local relief.
“We are not saying that Ireland will be free of traffic jams, but the pattern will be different.” Says Hudson. “Established ‘stars’ of AA Roadwatch bulletins, like the Red Cow Roundabout or the Dock Road, will seldom be heard any longer. However we remain very vulnerable to traffic incidents and to bad weather.”
Motorways have their downside in that when an incident does occur it affects many more vehicles. Particularly when the weather worsens, the major routes into Dublin and other cities will be vulnerable. Incidents like a truck jack-knifing or a minor collision will delay several thousand vehicles in the space of minutes.
“These are the types of incidents that occur regularly in other countries.” Says Hudson. “Now that we have a motorway network of our own we can expect to see the same thing here in Ireland.”
Former traffic ‘blackspots’ that have now been by-passed or remedied include:
Dublin City: M50 Route – Red Cow Interchange, M4 Interchange, Westlink Toll Bridge, Blanchardstown Interchange – all substantially improved by M50 Upgrade. The Quays & City Centre, substantially improved by the opening of the Dublin Port Tunnel, the HGV ban & the College Green Bus Gate
Ashbourne: Since the opening of the M2/Ashbourne Bypass in 2006 delays have eased considerably
The M3 Route, which bypasses Clonee, Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells was officially opened on June 4th 2010. The average daily volume on the N3 through Dunshaughlin in June 2009 was 16,480, while this June the daily volume had reduced dramatically to 8739.
The N4 route, especially Enfield and Edgesworthtown. The Edgesworthtown Bypass officially opened on 19th June, 2006. The section running between Kilcock and Kinnegad, bypassing Enfield, officially opened to traffic on 12th December, 2005.
The N6 Route. One of the worst traffic blackspots on the N6 in previous years was Moate. The Kilbeggan/Athlone stretch of the new M6 was officially opened 16th July 2008, bypassing Moate and alleviating delays.
The M7 Monasterevin Bypass officially opened on 8th November, 2004. Monasterevin had been one of the worst blackspots on the route. Mountrath was also extremely heavy, with major delays of up to an hour at times on Friday evenings. Kildare had also been a major black spot.
The N8 Route On the Cork Dublin Rd, Urlingford and Abbeyleix were major bottlenecks.
Average count on the June Bank Holiday 2009 was 57,016, while at the June Bank Holiday weekend in 2010, this figure was reduced to 23,983. Cork: Further along the route, Fermoy was another blackspot, upgraded in 2006.
Limerick City – The Dock Road will be substantially relieved by the new Limerick Tunnel opened July 2010.
Waterford City – The new bridge opened in October 2009 will bring relief to Rice Bridge in the City