Re: Re: Metro West

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Jerome Casey did this piece on an alternative route for Metro West for the commercial property section in The Sunday Business Post yesterday. There’s a map accompanying it setting out the route, where it would be underground etc but I can’t scan it in.

MetroWest route should be rethought
29 April 2007
Building MetroWest outside the M50 will reinforce urban sprawl in Dublin, but building it inside the motorway could help to revive some declining inner suburbs, writes Jerome Casey.

It is not unknown for economists to possess best friends. But the patience of best friends can be tested when economists, after prefacing their remarks by forswearing any gifts of prophecy, prattle on even-handedly about how some event might turn out.

Luckily economists’ reputation for relevance and judgement is rescued every five years or so when the Central Statistics Office (CSO) publishes its Census of Population. The census is a 100 per cent sample of all residents in Ireland and, because its mainly demographic results emerge slowly but surely, it can endow the meanest economic analysis with unusual sagacity.

The CSO’s 2006 census did not disappoint. Probably its most arresting result was the change in population in areas of the capital and its surrounding counties. From 2002 to 2006, the counties of Fingal, Dublin South, Kildare and Meath were among the fastest growing counties in the state and were also the counties with the lowest age profiles. In recent years, a high proportion of young families with children have chosen to set up home in dormitory towns around Dublin, probably for reasons of housing affordability.

This population growth puts enormous pressure on such dormitory towns to provide extra schools, hospitals and other social infrastructure – a pressure they have coped with poorly. The contrast with the experience of Dublin city could not be more startling. The city is divided into 163 electoral divisions and of these, 55 divisions north of the Liffey and 37 south of the river showed declines in population from 2002 to 2006.The decline was concentrated in the city’s traditional suburbs, ranging from Kilbarrack in the north through Glasnevin to Ballyfermot in the west, to Drimnagh, Terenure to Booterstown in the south.

The most egregious recent example of this suburban decline is the impending closure of Greendale Community School in Kilbarrack – the school where Roddy Doyle taught has simply run out of pupils. In terms of the National Spatial Strategy, it makes no sense to encourage settlement in dormitory towns where expensive social infrastructure is virtually non-existent while at the same time allowing the population to decline in established suburbs where there is a surplus of social infrastructure.

Reversing this will require an initiative to make suburban housing affordable again for young families with children, and will also necessitate an orbital public transport facility connecting these suburbs. Unlike other capital cities, Dublin is unfortunate in possessing only radial routes (both fixed-line and road) from its outskirts to the city centre. When the M50 was added as a major orbital road route, it was not surprising that it was initially popular nor that it is currently overused.

In late 2005, Transport 21 decided that a public transport alternative to the M50 was required, and Metro West was conceived. MetroWest would run through the new towns of Tallaght, Clondalkin and Blanchardstown to join with Metro North on its route to the airport. In January of this year, the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) set out two possible routes for Metro West. Both ran west of the M50 and parallel to it, one about one kilometre away from the motorway and the second about two kilometres from it. No costings were given, but it is probable that the more westerly route, running over more underdeveloped land, would cost less.

Minimising the investment cost of a metro is an important consideration, and it is one which the RPA is determined to master in building Metro North. But a much more important consideration is that a metro should be built in the right place. Building MetroWest outside theM50 will copperfasten Dublin’s physical character as a US style ‘‘edge city’’, with such a low density of population that a high-frequency, low-subsidy public transport system cannot be supported.

The decision in principle on MetroWest was made a number of years ago. Since then, public awareness of climate change and the unsustainability of Ireland’s dependence on imported oil for car transport has deepened considerably. The architectural, planning and economic establishments are broadly united in the view that the M50 should be the new Pale for the capital, meaning settlement should be intensified within that generous spatial envelope rather than be encouraged to locate outside it.

The diagram which accompanies this piece outlines how an orbital MetroWest within the M50 could be accommodated in two building phases. Phase 1 would have a mainly tunnelled northern loop from Marino to Beaumount Hospital, linking the town centres of Santry, Ballymun and Finglas. The cost overrun on the Dublin Port Tunnel has damned tunnelling among Irish policymakers, but the bored section of that tunnel came in at competitive rates, whereas the cut and cover stretch was over budget. Alternative surface routes along Collins Avenue or up the Santry river valley are unsatisfactory, as they would miss the hospital.

Phase 1 would also see the mainly-surface southern section built. This would proceed from Ballyfermot roundabout along the R112 to Walkinstown, continue along the R112 through the DodderValley between Terenure and Rathfarnham, on to the UCD campus and then via a road reservation to Rock Road and Booterstown Dart station.

Phase 2 of Metro West would be partly-tunnelled and partly surface running, and would link Finglas to Ballyfermot across the relatively-unpopulated Phoenix Park and Liffey Valley. When complete, Metro West would act as an outer orbital loop linking all radial train, Dart and Luas lines in the city. It would complement the inner loop proposed in the Dargan Project ( – this would re-open the Phoenix Park rail tunnel and connect Heuston through Broadstone to Connolly in the north, to finish the loop with the southern interconnector proposed in Transport 21 to link Connolly through Stephen’s Green to Heuston.

To revive Dublin’s older suburbs and make them affordable locations of choice for young families will require not only public transport investments such as MetroWest, but will also require fiscal changes. In addition to a considerably reduced rate of stamp duty, Dublin probably needs a location tax/subsidy introduced instead of rates. Under a location tax, property located close to efficient public transport such as MetroWest would pay an annual levy, while properties disadvantaged by being distant from efficient public transport would receive an annual subsidy from the city authorities.

However, building public assent for such a change may take longer than deciding to locate MetroWest within the M50.

Jerome Casey is a construction economist and publisher of Building Industry Bulletin.

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