Traffic delays persist in Mullingar despite the introduction of smart lights.

New traffic plan for Mullingar 'a total waste of money'

A new study set to be carried out to try to solve Mullingar’s long-standing traffic problems is a “total waste of money”.

That’s according to Cllr Ken Glynn, who says that the ongoing traffic congestion problems in the centre of the town are frustrating for local motorists.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, Cllr Glynn said that he does not think that outside consultants are needed to solve the traffic problems, which many believe were exacerbated by the introduction of a smart traffic lights system in January 2020 as part of the €3m enhancement of the town centre.

Cllr Glynn says that consultants advised county councillors that smart lights would improve the traffic flow in the town centre, but the opposite has happened.

“I think it [hiring outside consultants] is a waste of money. We are wasting more money after more money.

“This was sold to the councillors at the time [of the town enhancement scheme]. We went through a lengthy process at the time.

“We talked to consultants and we were basically told this was the best thing to do, and naturally enough we listened to the experts. We raised concerns but were told that this would be the best way. We listened to the experts and now we are at a situation where we are back how many years later and it is still not working, still causing problems and now we want to spend more money on more consultants.

“I don’t buy into that. I said it when it was announced and my opinion won’t change.

“We have fantastic engineers within our staff that are more than qualified to find the pinch points and come up with solutions.

“We have been highlighting it and highlighting it and at this stage [the responses] are lip service.

‘Delaying tactic’

“I do feel that another study and more consultants will serve no purpose. It’s another delaying tactic. Be it roundabouts or slip roads, it just needs to be sorted. People want to see action.”

Cllr Glynn said that the problems with traffic congestion have led to many people forming the opinion that the lights are sequenced to discourage motorists from bringing their cars into the centre of the town.

“If we don’t have cars in the town, how are people supposed to get around? How are people supposed to support local businesses?

“People come from the four corners of the county to shop in Mullingar. How could you have a situation where you can’t have cars in the town centre? There is no public bus service. We are lucky that we have a great taxi service. If people have cars, they are entitled to bring their cars into town and to go about their business. That’s the reality.

“I don’t subscribe to the view that the town centre should be cleansed of motor vehicles – that’s far from needed.

“What’s needed is that the council start listening to people. As a public representative, I am bringing forward the views that are being stated to me, that’s what I am elected to do.”

Traffic jams are a regular occurance in the centre of Mullingar.

At last Monday’s, September 12, meeting of Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District (MKMD), councillors were informed that a consultant is being commissioned “to carry out an area-based transportation plan for the town of Mullingar” and that the study will “examine all transportation issues”. Cllr Glynn, who submitted a motion calling for MKMD to bring forward proposals to alleviate traffic congestion in the centre of town and, in particular at the “McDonald’s junction”, greeted the news about another study with scepticism.

The Fianna Fáil man was one of a number of councillors who asked if the sequencing of the lights at the McDonald’s junction and other “pinch points” in the town centre could be altered to improve traffic flow at peak times.

“We know the pinch points. We don’t need consultants or anyone else to come in and tell us the pinch points or the bad times of the day that we have issues with.

“Is it possible to have the lights tweaked to have longer drive-throughs at peak times – these are supposed to be smart lights.

"If we were able to do something with the lights at those peak times, maybe that would shut the likes of me up and we could get on with waiting for this plan. As it stands, it's lip service as far as I'm concerned. I want action," he said.

Cllr Aoife Davitt said that the sequencing at the traffic lights at the McDonald's junction needs to be increased to allow more cars to get through.

"Those lights [at Church Avenue and Castle Street] give you one milli-second, nearly, to exit a junction. That's not right."

Cllr Davitt also said that the sensors that communicate with the smart traffic lights need to be marked more clearly so that motorists know where to correctly position their cars to activate the sequencing.

She also said that something needs to be done to address the growing number of motorists who perform U-turns on the town's roads.

"Between delivery drivers and people who are frustrated with traffic, there will be a serious incident where someone will get hit by someone doing a U-turn."

Cllr Emily Wallace said the congestion problems around the McDonald's junction have become worse in recent months. "I can travel around Dublin a lot more swiftly and easier than I can Mullingar at certain points."

Cllr Mick Dollard said that a study carried out before the €3m town enhancement works a number of years ago found that one in four cars travelling through Mullingar don't stop in the town. He believes that more signs should be erected for motorists who may not be "au fait" with the road layout.

"Let people know that they don't actually have to travel into Mullingar," he said.

The mayor, Cllr Hazel Smyth, said that while she agrees that something needs to be done to alleviate traffic congestion in the town, the bike rental scheme could be extended to include e-bikes and cargo bikes.

She also said that it is important that when the new transport plan is being drawn up that improved safety measures for cyclists are included.

"I hear similar stories from cyclists around the town that it doesn't feel all the safe. I do hope the wider plan takes into consideration the needs of those who wish to consider alternatives [to cars] and also pedestrians. I do hope that all that could help alleviate the traffic congestion issues that we are seeing around the town."

Cllr Denis Leonard said that the ring roads around the town need to be used more. He also said that the Mullingar area bus service needs to be rolled out "ASAP".

"Rather than arguing about the route and where it's going ad nauseam we need to get it sorted and get it done," he said.

Director of services David Jones said that the lights at all of the junctions are interlinked, which means that altering the sequencing at one could have an impact on the others.

"Hence the reason that the Mullingar transport study will look at everything in its totality and allow any amendments to be made in that strategic, joined up approach," he told councillors.

Mr Jones also said the appointment of the consultant to carry out the study has taken longer than anticipated as it had to be put out to tender again as initially there was no response from interested parties.

"Perhaps it's not a bad thing. Hopefully the remnants of Covid are now washed through the system and we are now back to what is considered the new norm in terms of traffic volumes within the town and therefore the study can capture accurate real-life data..."