Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to join you here on what is a really positive day for Irish transport infrastructure. I have just come from an event to mark the first birthday of LUAS, a project which will carry more than 20 million passengers this year. And now, we can celebrate the opening of another crucial piece of infrastructure, the South-Eastern section of the M50.
The opening today of this the final link of the M50, linking the road at Sandyford with the M11 Shankill/Bray Bypass, offering people a high quality, high spec connection from the M1 at Dundalk, County Louth to Rathnew, County Wicklow is to be welcomed. At a more local level, residents of the areas surrounding the stretch of motorway that we are opening today will doubtless be glad to see their neighbourhoods being freed from the traffic snarls of recent months.
This is a milestone event in the transformation of our national infrastructure. No doubt the "begruders" and "the hurlers on the ditch" will put the blinkers on and revert to negativity. But before they do so, I challenge them to consider the everyday motorist, consider the employment benefits of projects like this, consider the improvements in road safety and, not least, consider the improved quality of life of those who live in the vicinity.
Yes, there are capacity constraints on the M50, an issue we are working hard to resolve. But for all that, there is no doubt that the construction of the M50 has been central to the economic success, not just of Dublin, but the whole Irish economy.
Can anyone imagine how Dublin could function, as an economic or social entity, without this vital artery which now connects every access point to our capital with the rest of the country? It has also acted as a development spur within the Greater Dublin region. We should recall today that the growth of vibrant new towns such as Tallaght, Blanchardstown, and a renewed Ballymun, were dependent on the development of the M50 and improved public transport access. The successful cutting edge industrial development led by companies such as Intel, IBM and Hewlett Packard, and the thousands of jobs created, would not have been possible without the M50. Let us remember these crucial and significant facts.
National Road Programme
This project is the 4th national road project to open to traffic this year and brings to 51 the number of projects completed since 2000. It is expected that another 4 will be open to traffic before the end of the year. Work will also commence on another 18 projects this year. Never before have so many major projects been undertaken at the same time and with such speed. It is a record the Government is proud of. The country has a long-standing infrastructure deficit but that deficit is now being closed at a dramatic pace. A new transport platform for long-term development is being put in place and the completion of the M50 represents a key staging post in that journey.
We are not building roads to admire them - we are building them because they make it possible to protect and grow job opportunities and to protect and grow community life in all parts of our country. This is not about concrete and tarmac or the undoubted quality of the workmanship we can all see. At the core of our roads programme is our absolute commitment to making sure that we have lasting foundations in place to protect and grow employment as well as sustain good quality of life in every part of the country. When the programme is completed, Ireland will, for the first time, have a modern infrastructure to support economic and social life.
Upgrade of M50
Work is now well advanced on the planning and design of the M50 upgrade. The upgrade project which will widen the M50 to 3 lanes and upgrade the interchanges will have significant benefits. The NRA is in discussions with NTR regarding the toll bridge. In my view, a move to open road or barrier free tolling is paramount. I look forward to an outcome shortly on these discussions.
This project also highlighted the challenges inherent in the construction of a major infrastructure project in an urban and archaeologically rich area. These challenges have, I believe been successfully resolved. As is now well known, the Carrickmines site was identified during preparatory studies and investigations for the EIS for this Motorway. An excavation, prior to construction of the motorway was recommended and undertaken at a cost in excess of €6m. The full extent of the site was only revealed during the excavation process which commenced in August, 2000 and continued into 2003.
The core of the site itself will not be impacted by the motorway as the area concerned, the 'island' area, is being preserved untouched taking account of the findings of the EIS. The motorway was designed to protect this 'island' area.
The evidence is there that this Government has put in place the largest and most sustained programme of infrastructural investment in our history. It is almost impossible to travel a significant distance without coming across a major project which is underway. Increasingly, it is also almost impossible to travel a significant distance without benefiting from a major project which has already been completed.
I am on record since my appointment as Minister that meeting Ireland's and Dublin's transport needs is not just about building more roads. Investment in roads has been complemented in recent years by major increases in investment in public transport. Buses continue to be at the heart of public transport. Decades of under investment in rail services are being corrected by this Government. As I said at the outset, LUAS is one-year old today and its success has surpassed all expectations. I wish each and all transport modes continuing success
While the progress to date is very real, it reinforces rather than questions the need for further sustained action to be underpinned by a clear vision of what our objectives are. That is why the Government is planning for the long-term in the form of the Transport Plan.
The plan will set out both a vision of an integrated public transport system serving the city and the regions and a timetable for its delivery. Its implementation will have a major and positive impact not only on economic activity but also on the attractions of Ireland as a place to live, to work and to invest. It will help sustain our economic progress for generations ahead.
I would like to conclude by acknowledging the contribution of all involved in this project - the NRA, local authorities, consultants, the construction industry. The ongoing co-operation and commitment of all in seeking better and more efficient ways of doing things will be equally important going forward. Today is a great day for Irish transport. Given the scale of the Government's commitment to investment in infrastructure, I know that many other days like this lie ahead.