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M50 takes its Toll

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By any standard, NTR has already been well-remunerated for its investments in the M50 West-Link toll bridges. The southbound bridge which opened in 2003 at a cost of �23 million places the proposed payment of �600 million to NTR in context.

Assuming that this bridge handles half the West- Link traffic, NTR's return would be about 13 times the initial investment even before past revenues and future inflation are taken into account.  How can this be justified?

It is noteworthy that negotiations on tolls for the second bridge took place after the huge surge in traffic during 1996-7 so it wasn't as if traffic and profit projections were being made in a vacuum as was the case for the first bridge.

Furthermore, the buyback appears to have been negotiated around toll revenues rather than NTR's projected net profits which would be substantially lower.

This deal - and all prior agreements with NTR - should be thoroughly investigated by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts before one brass cent is paid over.

As part of these investigations, the barriers must be lifted on a trial basis to establish the level of disruption caused by tolling delays and to check whether NTR is providing tolling facilities that are adequate for the current levels of traffic as per its operating agreements.

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 4th March 2007.

M50 Tolls

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By any standard, NTR has already been well-remunerated for its investments in the M50 West-Link toll bridges. Instead of paying hundreds of millions to compensate for prematurely ending its tolling role on the M50, the Government should announce plans to build another bridge as part of the M50 widening. A new bridge and associated road works would cost less than �100 million and this should be used to benchmark the maximum compensation payable to NTR.

In practice, a new bridge should not be needed to break NTL's monopoly as the threat should enable the Government negotiate a fair deal for the taxpayer. However, if needs be, a new bridge could be built within three years. Bear in mind that the southbound bridge which opened in 2003 cost, according to NTR's website, only �23 million and took just two years to build.

Toll Roads

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Judging by their silence, motorists don't give a hoot about the recent increases in the East and West Link tolls. If they made enough noise, I'm sure that they could force a roll-back of the recent increases along with commitments to limit future price rises and measures to ease the congestion.

This instance of highway mugging begs the question as to why the Government and NRA are pursuing plans to toll further roads notwithstanding that Public Private Partnership funding is minor in the context of the total investment in infrastructure; that toll operations represent additional cost burdens; that the State can raise finance on better terms than any private operator; and that profits must be generated to remunerate the private partner.

Surely, it is time for the Government, NRA and NTR to recognise that they are killing their "golden goose" in the same way that Eircom's floatation and subsequent history have constrained any future privatisations.

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 23rd January 2005.

Red Cow Roundabout

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So the Mad Cow Roundabout, formerly known as the Red Cow Roundabout, looks set to become the Dead Cow Roundabout while it is being rebuilt. If tolls are introduced, it could then become the Cash Cow Roundabout  to complement its very profitable sister at the West Link. Might this become another case of motorists paying through the nose and being milked at the same time.

This is all a roundabout way of asking why private funding is being considered for the rebuild at a time when the Exchequer is awash with funds for such "essentials" as benchmarking and the National Pension Reserve Fund.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 20th November 2003.

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