Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How to get 600 Million

Want to know how to get an annual income of €50 million for 12 years without having to lift a finger or employee anyone, except maybe an accountant to count the money and a security guard to accompany you as you laugh all the way to the bank? Spend £6 million, build a bridge for the Irish Government and wait. Eventually they will buy from you for €600 million. Not bad money if you can make it, and no matter what you think about the deal you cant really blame NTR for cashing in on the stupidity of the Irish Government through the ages.

Awarded the contract to build and operate the Westlink on the M50 for £6 million back in 1987 NTR have since then been held up as the bane of Dublin motorists with the toll bridge being blamed for all the traffic problems on the M50. Now the Irish Government has stepped up and saved the Irish motorist, bought the bridge and announced plans to introduce barrier free tolling, and all this just before an election, though tellingly the barriers wont be removed until after that election.

You see what no one has actually answered is a simple but important question. "Is the traffic congestion on the M50 caused by the bridge?" NTR have always insisted that the traffic congestion is not caused by the bridge and lifting the barriers would only move the problems to the next junction, but they refused to lift the barriers to prove this. Even when Senator Shane Ross and others offered to pay the tolls the barriers stayed down. The anti-toll campaigners claimed this was proof that the bridge really was the cause of all the worlds traffics woes, but I have to wonder, will it solve anything? I'm cannot be sure that the taxpayer has not been bluffed.

If NTR lifted the barriers and the traffic did back up at the next junction what would have happened? If there really is no other solution to the traffic jams on the M50 other than to widen the motorway what would that do to the price of the Westlink bridge? Would the government be willing to pay €600 million to move a traffic jam half a mile? I doubt it. Would everyone be cheering and clapping if we had just spent all that money to extend a parking lot? Probably not. The toll bridge being seen as the main problem for traffic on the M50 has actually proven to be a great asset for NTR. If you were in NTRs position would you risk a €600 million pay day by lifting the barriers and allowing traffic to flow freely through the bridge just to prove to Senator Ross who was right? Not bloody likely! Hell, if it was me I'd have been out there nailing those barriers into the down position and throwing spikes under the wheels of passing cars.

Perhaps the Government has just spent €600,000,000 of taxpayers money to undo a 20 year old mistake. Perhaps they have finally done the right thing and will have made life easier for thousands of daily commuters. Perhaps, but it they were spending €60,000 on a new car I would assume they would first ask to take it for a test drive. Now we wont find out the truth until after the election and by then it will be too late if that bridge turns out to be exactly what NTR claimed it was, just a bridge.

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