HAULAGE companies would pay more on tolls than they would save on fuel if they used the Limerick Tunnel, businessman Sean Murtagh has said after it emerged a shortfall in traffic using the €600 million tunnel resulted in the NRA forking out €1.25 million in compensation to the Direct Route consortium for the last four months of 2010.
Under a guarantee scheme entered into by the NRA, the taxpayer coughs up if traffic is less than projected. Among the investors guaranteed revenue is the bailed-out Allied Irish Banks. One current estimate says more than 3000 vehicles a day fewer than anticipated are using the tunnel.
Senior debt on the Limerick Tunnel was last month downgraded by Standard and Poors with a negative outlook. The credit rating agency said that toll revenues were “substantially lower” than forecast; that the project was “heavily reliant” on the NRA guarantee and that this was likely to remain the case for most of the 35-year concession.
Mr Murtagh, a member of the Irish Road Haulage Association, had predicted that hauliers would avoid the toll, which stands at €5.70 for lorries, and he believes this has come to pass.
“In our own case, we are not using it as it is not value for money. The time you save is not that valuable in comparison. The bill for tolls could go into a few thousand euros a month and you would not make that saving on fuel,” Mr Murtagh said.
“When you are coming back from Shannon, there are huge numbers turning off left, not just commercial but general traffic. There isn’t much incentive for the tunnel to drop the price because they are getting a cheque written for the balance,” he said.
A truck ban in Limerick has in the past been discussed at City Hall but it would be “unfortunate if they used that stick to drive people into the tunnel”. Hauliers had good reason to visit industrial zones such as the Dock Road.