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OPINION:Fall-out from mayhem of traffic gridlock at tunnel

December 28th, 2015 1:38 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SHOPPERS hurrying to Cork to purchase that elusive last-minute Christmas pressie in the city should be afraid. Oh yes, very afraid.

Because, you see, they run the risk of being trapped in their cars for hours on end when attempting to navigate the Jack Lynch Tunnel – as happened on December 3rd. 

On that dreadful day, at 10.15am, and with torrential rain bucketing down, water began to fill a small gully. Nothing more than a drain blockage, essentially a little problem which led to some flooding on the hard shoulder of the left lane on the Mahon side of the tunnel, but chaos resulted: the worst traffic jam ever in the history of the Real Capital!  And all because of a handful of leaves that a man with a yard brush could have cleared in less than a minute!

During that long and terrible day in excess of 70,000 vehicles were caught in a gridlock that lasted until 11pm, and which spread like a virus across the city as commuters and shoppers sought alternative routes to escape the calamity.

Rightly or wrongly, responsibility for the mayhem fell on the shoulders of the private company, ERTO, that operates the tunnel. City councillors accused it of making poor management decisions, bad communication and failure to realise that the incident consisted of nothing more than a drain blockage and relatively minor flooding (for instance, the tunnel itself was unaffected).  

 

Serious implications

Assertions also were made that Cork City Council, the Motorway Traffic Control Centre, the Gardaí, local media and a very angry general public were not properly informed of what was going on. 

The private operators, Egis Road and Tunnel Operation (ERTO), which took over management of the tunnel from Cork City Council following changes to EU laws on road tunnel safety, did not succeed in solving the problem until 10.40pm that night; and only after they contacted (in desperation?) Munster Drains at around 5 pm in the evening.  

The problem for Munster Drains – expert gully, drainpipe and culvert cleaners – was that they couldn’t access the location of the flooding for another four hours. And why the long delay in getting to the trouble spot, the reader might ask?  Because they were stuck in a monster traffic jam, silly! 

Which could have had very serious implications for An Garda Síochána and other key service providers had there been a serious emergency in another part of the city – such as the airport, for instance. 

Happily, once Munster Drains got to the tunnel at around 9pm, it took them less than an hour to get everything professionally done and dusted. They left the site at 10pm, but traffic jams continued around the city.

City councillors were incandescent with rage and demanded an explanation from Transportation Infrastructure Ireland (formerly the National Roads Authority), and now known as TII. It oversees the tunnel operator, ERTO, whom it appointed to manage the tunnel on its behalf. 

 

‘Whitewash’ attempt

In a preliminary report to the City Council, TII baldly told the councillors that it held the ERTO outfit responsible for the chaos: ‘A full review of tunnel procedures and protocols would be ordered after the serious under-performance of the tunnel contractor,’ it said. 

That cut no ice with the politicos. Fianna Fáil’s Tim Brosnan described the TII report as ‘whitewash,’ considering that TII was the overall body in charge of the tunnel.

‘Cripes,’ said another councillor, ‘one blocked drain leads to 12 hours of gridlock.  Where would you get anything like that, but in Cork?’  His colleague added: ‘A man with a bucket would have cleared the flooding, for God’s sake.’

Mick Finn (Independent) put it in a nutshell. ‘A few leaves and a bit of silt brought the city to a standstill.’

Lord Mayor Chris O’Leary (SF) said that, when the Council had management of the tunnel, ‘it made sure every guideline was followed and that highest standards were maintained.’ 

In response, several councillors demanded the contract with ERTO be cancelled and that the operation of the tunnel should be returned to the City Council.  

Others blamed privatisation.

Oh, and here’s the funny bit: Last October, ERTO won a prestigious award in Dublin for … wait for it … the most innovative, effective and influential achievements in their intelligent transportation systems!

As a Corkonian debacle, it was far beyond anything locals would consider ordinary or usual – and that’s saying something. A knock-on effect, however, is that Fine Gael’s plan to introduce tolling for the Jack Lynch Tunnel is now dead in the water (pardon the pun). In opposition, Blueshirts described a road toll as ‘madness’ and promised no stealth taxes – a commitment that did not deter them from promoting the idea once they got into government as they licked their chops in anticipation of creaming off  €30 million a year from the N40. Try that one now lads!

 

Inda’s exposure!

Oh dear! What a fright we got on picking up the Indo/Sindo to learn that Dame Inda was cutting down on exposure. Exposure in the most proper way, of course – media exposure – and in no way did the article suggest Enda was caught exposing himself in Lidl, or anything like that! Certainly not!

It seems Mr Kenny does too many ‘doorstep engagements’ and so the hardy bucks (his obscenely-paid advisers) have ordered him not to be so accessible to the national media. Instead he must limit himself to one big press conference (or audience) a month, like a real prime minister.  

‘Such constant access to the media is too risky a strategy,’ reported the Indo/Sindo , ‘as was the case in Bertie Ahern’s day when he was forced to answer questions he didn’t want to address during doorsteps.’

Presumably the drastic action was taken on the basis that not enough Blueshirt achievements exist to decently cover Mr Kenny’s brain and so his intellect is improperly exposed when asked a pointed question. 

Whatever the reason, he shouldn’t worry. 

The hardy bucks will ensure media access to him is ‘severely restricted’ as part of the strategy to get him re-elected as Taoiseach.  

 

A mystery man

On the assumption the word media is plural for mediocre – and, let’s face it, Inda is a very mediocre politico – the plan is to turn him into an enigmatic leader, remote, detached, a person who arouses curiosity and who doesn’t give too much away. A mystery man! 

In other words, someone incomprehensible, or to be exact: unintelligible!  

On the other hand, let’s also bear in mind that, whereas the FG organ, the Indo/Sindo , has won a warm place in the nation’s heart for its continuous fiction, one would want to have been kicked in the head when very young to believe everything in it! 

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