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Monday, 12th March 2018

Opinion: daily gridlock for M1 commuters has become a nightmare

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There has to be more to life than the daily drudge of motorway madness.

This correspondent had the abject misfortune to be a commuter on the M1 motorway southbound from Drogheda to Dublin at rush hour this morning.

The commute from Drogheda to Harcourt Street in Dublin, a journey that normally should take around an hour, maybe an hour and a quarter, took a FULL TWO HOURS. 

The congestion began just south of junction 7 (Julianstown), where traffic went from speeds of around 100km/h down to pretty much zero. I thought perhaps there might be an accident ahead, so I switched on Dublin City FM, which gives rolling traffic reports during the morning and evening rush hours.

They were soon discussing the congestion on the M1, but there was no accident. It was down to huge volumes. The radio broadcaster said that the amount of traffic might be greater than usual because there had been a bridge strike on the Drogheda to Dublin railway line at Laytown and some people who would normally travel by train were taking the car instead.

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Worst ever

Now I understand that, as one lady who texted the radio station said, it was "the worst I've ever seen the M1 in years of commuting", but it's also true that commuters on the M1 have been putting up with daily delays for a long time now, at least for several years.

The traffic eased up for a bit south of junction 7, but by junction 5 (Balbriggan south) we were sitting on a car park again. It was slow (30km/h or less) from there to past junction 4, and then it freed up again heading past Swords until we approached the airport. And guess what? Parked cars again.

Listeners to the radio stations and the AA Roadwatch bulletins will know that the M1 has presented serious problems and excessive delays to commuters for a long time now. Drogheda-based commuters who work in the city face a 12-hour day, often leaving at 7am or even earlier and not getting back home until after 7pm in the evening. The journey from Drogheda to the south side of the city is a mere 50 kilometres. That's hardly an excessive distance. But when your average speed is 25km/h, it takes two hours. That's no life.

So what is at the root of the daily congestion that commuters face? What is it that makes their day so much longer and more gruelling? 

Solutions

Here's one answer. The M1 motorway is not a motorway. For long stretches, it's just a dual carriageway. And in this day and age, with huge rush hour traffic volumes as Drogheda (and other provincial towns) burgeon in size, and with no credible Government policy aimed at increasing employment those towns and decreasing the commuting population, it's this simple – dual carriageways do not cut the mustard.

The fact that the M1 is a dual carriageway means that buses and articulated lorries – which would not be allowed to enter the overtaking lane of a three-lane motorway – often enter the outside lane of the two-lane motorway, slowing up large volumes of motor cars behind. This just adds to the frustration.

The M7 motorway south of Naas is currently being expanded from two lanes in each direction to three. In other words, the M7 dual carriageway is finally coming of age, and turning into a grown-up, fully fledged  motorway.

The same thing needs to happen to the M1. And soon.

Thankfully, the National Transport Authority's draft Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035 identifies the need for increased capacity on the M1. However, it doesn't divulge much information:

"Junction upgrades and other capacity improvements on the M1 motorway."

Just what capacity improvements are envisaged is an unknown at this point in time. 

A larger discussion around the need for employment creation in provincial towns such as Drogheda also needs to take place (again), and in a meaningful way – not the usual lip service and wishy-washy plans for decentralisation that are vague, full of unworkable promises and thin on actual detail.

Commuter town: the negatives

Inevitably, the M1 will some day be widened. But usually when motorway capacity increases, the motorways get busier. This is one of the results of poor policy whereby large populations based in provincial towns are commuting to city jobs on a daily basis. Many of these people would be delighted to be able to work in their own town. Drogheda misses out on so much by being a commuter town. There are many people who have given up voluntary work for the area's many organisations and charities because the working day is too long. And it goes without saying that marriages, friendships and family life all suffer too. Not to mention people's mental health.

There has to be a better life than to endure the daily drudge that is the M1. Life is too short to be sitting in a car park.

This article was written by Anthony Murphy

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