Thursday, 16 February 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Morrissey: I thank the Minister of State for attending to reply to my motion on the Dublin Port tunnel. As we all know, the Dublin Port tunnel is a major infrastructure project for this country, and for this city in particular. Depending on what figures one reads, it is over budget or on budget, and it is either on time or over time. That is not what I want to raise today.
I am raising the issue of the confidence and reassurance we must have that the specifications for what we are building are correct and that it is constructed according to those specifications. I received a press statement yesterday from Dublin City Council, stating that all is well and there is nothing to worry about. For any construction company to let somebody loose with a kango hammer near a membrane of a port tunnel seems to be careless in the extreme. When one views the television footage, one cannot have great confidence in the project.
I want reassurance that when people use this tunnel after in opens in a few months time, any leaks will be properly and adequately dealt with. We all realise that water finds its own level and if there is a leak it will move on to the next weakest spot. It is quite alarming to hear that the initial problem in a major infrastructural project was due to the unsatisfactory thickness of cement in the walls and cavities. It calls into question the type of overseeing at the time of construction.
The Department of Finance is strenuously examining whether to have a metro in the city and Transport 21 has given the go-ahead for one, which will require extensive tunnelling. We must have assurances that we have the experience and expertise to construct correctly any tunnels we build. As I stated, the Dublin City Council press statement, which perhaps was sent to the Minister of State’s office as well as mine, seems to state we should not worry about this and that it will all be fixed in two weeks. If a membrane has been cracked, it will be difficult to repair it correctly, given the water leakage, and ensure that it cannot recur at that spot again.
When one sees the level of scaffolding holding that membrane in place, one wonders whether it raises a health and safety issue. I asked Dublin City Council for an answer to that question. I have not received a reply. What assurances can the Minister for State give?
Mr. N. Ahern: On behalf of the Minister for Transport, I would like to point out that the planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects, including the Dublin Port tunnel, is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, and the local authorities concerned, in this case Dublin City Council. The Minister for Transport is, of course, anxious that the Dublin Port tunnel is completed as soon as possible and successfully commissioned into the overall road network for the Dublin area.
As we know, the design and build contract was awarded in 2000 to Nishimatsu-Mowlem-lrishenco, NMI, a Japanese, British and Irish consortium. Construction supervision is provided by Brown and Root Limited, an internationally known company in that regard. The scheme is managed on site by a Dublin City Council team.
The Dublin Port tunnel will run from the M1 motorway to Dublin Port. It is approximately 5.6 km in length, of which 4.5 km will be in tunnel. Progress continues to be made on the construction of the tunnel. The civil engineering work within the tunnel has now been largely completed and the main focus of work has shifted to the installation of the mechanical and electrical systems which make up the safety and control features of the project. The tunnel is expected to be completed and open later in the year. The total estimated cost remains at €751 million, which has been the estimate for some time.
As Dublin City Council has publicly stated, the tunnel is a major infrastructural project and its construction involves many challenges every day. The construction work has been monitored in detail since the project commenced in 2001. Design and construction is monitored by the construction supervisors appointed by Dublin City Council. When problems arise, as they inevitably and routinely do with projects of this size, the council and its construction supervisors ensure they are detected and rectified.
The Minister for Transport understands from Dublin City Council that the recent leaks are part and parcel of the issues that arise on large engineering projects such as the tunnel. If remedial measures are called for at any stage, the contractor is required to implement them at its own expense.
The Minister also understands from Dublin City Council that contrary to the impression that may have been created, the leaks have no safety implications, either for the workers on the tunnel, for the structural integrity of the project or for the buildings and houses above the tunnel. Some people, including Members of the Oireachtas, who engage in scare tactics almost on a weekly basis in trying to promote themselves rather than anything else, should reflect on their words and how they might be perceived by those who live near the tunnel.
The items in question do not have any cost implications for the project as they are being paid for by the contractor. Measures to remedy the leaks are ongoing with the support of specialist subcontractors and are expected to be completed within weeks.
As a major new element in the road network, the Dublin Port tunnel will have a major beneficial impact on traffic flow in the Dublin area. It will be of particular benefit in facilitating improved access to the port for heavy goods vehicles while reducing HGV traffic from the city. The Government is conscious of the issues that will arise following the completion of the tunnel and pending the upgrade of the M50.
The Minister and his Department are consulting with all stakeholders to ensure that a co-ordinated traffic management strategy is developed for the opening of the tunnel. As part of this process, the council is preparing a HGV traffic management plan to ensure optimum use of the tunnel.
We talk all the time about the need for major infrastructural projects and we all accept they are required. We probably do not have a history of having so many of them. The reason they attract so much attention from the media and others is perhaps due to the novelty factor. These are major projects and small problems, such as this, arise presumably on an ongoing basis. Experts are carrying out the work and there are expert supervisors. I am sure they will get it right quickly. Some of these things look dramatic on television but I am inclined to think the attention is due to the novelty factor. Professional people are overseeing the work.
The Senator mentioned the issue of health and safety. I visited the tunnel once and it seemed health and safety are given a high priority. There were many health and safety people around — perhaps too many. I look forward to later in the year when this project is finished. I hope we learn much from it and that when it comes to constructing the metro, we will have matured in our thinking rather than requiring that everything look wonderful from day one. This project is being professionally carried out and I hope it will be finished shortly.
Mr. Morrissey: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I could not but notice the sentence that the recent leaks are part and parcel of the issues that arise on large engineering projects such as the tunnel. Dublin City Council is on record as saying this problem arose because a jackhammer went through a membrane. I would not consider that to be part and parcel of the issues. That was the basis of my question.
Mr. N. Ahern: Professionals, including Tim Brick and his team of engineers, are working on this project. Brown and Root are the international supervisors of the work. The Minister is not supervising the project in person. Of course accidents should not happen but minor ones do. I am sure it can be put right. It is a matter of timing. I do not believe work on the tunnel has stopped as a result. The experts regard it as something which will be fixed in the coming weeks. It is not putting the tunnel in jeopardy or otherwise. Of course, people should be careful when using jackhammers.
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