Thousands of motorists are refusing to pay toll charges on a new motorway that has been built in north Cork at a cost of €300 million.

Martin Cullen, Minister for Transport, promised that 17,000 vehicles per day would be taken off the streets of Fermoy, Rathcormac and Watergrasshill when he opened the motorway last October.

However, RTÉ News has learned that only 11,000 motorists per day are using the 33km motorway, while thousands of others are avoiding the toll.

Mr Cullen had proclaimed that one of the country's worst traffic bottle-necks had been removed.

Watergrasshill was bypassed three years previously and that by-pass was incorporated into the new M8. But usage of the new motorway has been disappointing since then.

Direct Route, which operates the toll road, has admitted that only 11,000 vehicles per day are using it.

An action committee in Watergrasshill estimates that traffic through the village since the by-pass opened has actually increased by more than 6,000 vehicles per day, including around 1,100 trucks.

The Irish Road Haulage Association has said it has advised its members not to use the toll road because it is too expensive.

The association is seeking a 50 cent discount for high-volume use, on top of a 50 cent discount which truckers already get for using electronic tolling.

But the operator says it cannot concede this and so the traffic congestion continues.