Insider read recently how the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, was calling for public submissions to advise him on how to spend the extra €2.65 billion available to him on infrastructure in this year's Mid-Term Review.
The €2.65 billion represents additional money to be added to the Government's €42 billion 2015 - 2021 Capital Plan commitments. My colleagues in the Galway City Council might consider looking for a share of Paschal's largesse to help them resolve some of the city's most intractable infrastructural problems.
Insider hears Paschal favours seeing this money being spent on providing better public transport. If that is the case, some small part of these billions could help in building a city-wide light rail transit, which would make life easier for commuters attempting to access their workplaces, such as in Parkmore, but also elsewhere in the city. This would have the additional benefit of allowing the rest of us to spend a little less of our time driving around looking for a place to park our cars when out doing our daily shopping, etc. We have until April 30 to make submissions to the Minister's call for advice.
So why would Insider say this? Well, the Galway city and county councils have together been working to an outdated 1970s inspired ‘Predict and Provide’ model of an 'If you build it they will come’ outer bypass road, as set out for them by Malcolm Buchanan & Partners in the 1999 Galway Transportation and Land Use Study. This is where proposals were made to create the controversial N6 bypass road around the city - which is as far away from being built now as it ever was.
Galway city is struggling with the consequences of another element of the Buchanan plan, which was have both councils agree on the number of new houses to be built in the growing satellite towns and villages spaced around the city - Barna, Moycullen, Headford, Tuam, Athenry, Oranmore, etc. The city itself was to build a new self-contained housing suburb at Ardaun, expected to provide homes for 16,000 people.
Insider was never happy with this arrangement and councillors from the county also baulked at backing Ardaun. Thus while thousands of new houses have since been built in a ring up to 40km radiating around the city, Ardaun is stuck in limbo with not a single house yet built.
As this hiatus continues we were recently told by city CEO Brendan McGrath that 22,000 workers commute into the city each day from the county, 14,000 from east of the city, and most of them are using their own cars, as the provision of efficient/sufficient public transport has slipped below what might be required in a modern society, and even as Galway's medical device sector, mostly situated at the IDAs Parkmore Business Park, continued to grow.
Today it can take an hour just to get to the entrance gate if you were unfortunate enough to work at the back of the estate, and it will take more than a few painted lines on Parkmore Avenue and fiddling with traffic lights at Briarhill to resolve this planning faux pax.
Even yet, our city executive are currently extolling the virtues around making the case for Galway to be elevated to a “Tier two city” status. Insider thinks spending a little more time sorting through the city's current deficits in the provision of decent transport infrastructure, might prove to be more productive, before they begin seeking to build the promised 25,000 additional houses - much as these are needed to ease growing homelessness in Galway.
At the same time, house prices in the city have gone up by more than 18 per cent in the first quarter. If the city is to stay competitive, and is to avoid losing jobs to other places with public transport than Galway, Transport Infrastructure Ireland planners must find alternative ways of unlocking our gridlocked roads without increasing the number of cars on them.
Meanwhile new UK reports have confirmed what many in Galway already know - that major new road building is failing to deliver, and is causing damage to both the environment and the public purse. “It’s time for a fresh approach” these reports tell us. New roads create new traffic. It is a simple truth that some people have been asserting for years (Insider among them ). Few in Galway listened.
The UK government's national audit office, which scrutinises value for money for the tax payer, has just issued a critical report on how the current £15 billion road investment strategy is faring in practice. Its report found the RIS was put together in a hurry, bringing risks for “deliverability, affordability and value for money”. In Ireland, if we continue our present travel patterns, traffic congestion will only increase. Galway will witness a loss in economic competitiveness, while our quality of life and the quality of our natural environment will decline. We will not be able to meet our international obligations to reduce our production of greenhouse gas emissions. In short, our travel trends will not be sustainable!
It was heartening to hear recently on national radio, the media spokesman for the AA, Conor Faughnan, recommend that the only solution to Galway's continuing problems with excess car traffic would be for the construction of a city light rail transit. The worm may indeed be turning.
Insider believes it is not too late for the Department of Transport to go back to the drawing board and to follow through on the city councillors 2010 request to have the Department of Transport look more closely at developing a city-wide light rail transit, so Galway will not fall even further behind Ireland's other regional city in dealing with excessive car use.
Climate change legislation demands we reduce our dependence of fossil fuel use, and time is fast running out if Ireland is to avoid massive EU fines for failing to reach our targets in reducing greenhouse gases.