Campaigners in Drogheda, Co Louth are calling for the Government to intervene and suspend toll charges for motorists following the temporary closure of a busy route connecting the north and south sides of the town.

The historic Obelisk Bridge allowed motorists to cross the River Boyne without going into the town centre or using the motorway.

The 154-year-old bridge was closed to traffic on 21 August to allow essential structural works take place.

It is expected to be closed for ten months.

During this period, motorists are being diverted into Drogheda town centre, which is already congested.

Campaigners say the situation is costing them time and money because they now either have to drive through heavy traffic in town or pay the toll on the Donore Road to access the M1 motorway to avoid delays.

Louth County Council has no recorded traffic survey of vehicles using the Obelisk Bridge, but campaigners claim that "thousands" of motorists use it each day.

Those most affected by the closure are people living in the immediate vicinity of the bridge in Tullyallen and Donore.

The bridge is also frequently used by tourists and visitors going to the Battle of the Boyne site nearby.

Louth County Council has acknowledged there will be an "inevitable increase in traffic within Drogheda town" if all traffic uses the diversion route.

It said it was aware of the inconvenience caused to local residents and is "applying strong project management to ensure that the works are completed in as short as time as possible".

The Obelisk Bridge was closed to traffic in August to allow essential structural works take place

Public meetings have been held on the issue as well as a number of small protests at the M1 ramp at the Donore road in Drogheda.

Frank Godfrey is one of those campaigning for the suspension of the toll charges for the duration of the Obelisk Bridge works.

He has called on Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to visit Drogheda to "sort this issue out".

Mr Godfrey said it was a great inconvenience to the people of the town including businesses, farmers, workers and students.

"It's unfair, you know the little while it takes to go across here (the toll), seconds, you have to pay to get from one end of the town to the other," he said.

Eventually, Mr Godfrey said he would like to see this toll at Drogheda abolished completely.

Commuter Lorraine Cunningham said that Drogheda is "under siege" from traffic and has joined calls for the suspension of toll charges.

She drives from Duleek in Co Louth to Castleblayney in Co Monaghan for work each day. She has used the Obelisk Bridge for this journey for the last 15 years and said its closure is negatively affecting her daily commute.

"My options are I can use the toll bridge, which will cost me approx. another €1,000 in the next ten months or I can travel through the town of Drogheda, which will make my commute three hours instead of two hours," she said.

Frank Godfrey is one of those campaigning for the suspension of the toll charges for the duration of the Obelisk Bridge works

School commute delays being experienced

One of the biggest secondary schools in the country is in south Drogheda, with 1,550 pupils and 200 staff travelling to St Oliver's Community College each day.

Principal John Halpin estimates that around a third of the staff use the Obelisk Bridge with many students also travelling from towns and villages in south Drogheda and east Meath to attend school.

He describes the route as a "short cut" from towns and villages around Drogheda and a "key way" that some staff and students get to school in the mornings.

"They're getting up earlier, is what’s happening. And we’re grateful that they are still arriving pretty much on time most days. It’s adding a significant amount of time, up to 45 minutes for some people, just by not having that short cut," he said.

Mr Halpin said that the problem is likely to worsen when more students travel by car once the winter weather arrives.

A pre-school operator in Drogheda said the diversions are also having an effect on parents dropping off their pre-school children in the morning.

Melanie Brannigan, of Scribbles and Giggles, said some parents are now arriving late as a result of the traffic.

Ms Brannigan said that the Obelisk closure could affect her business as some parents from the north of the town who use her facility could seek childcare elsewhere if the issues persist.

She said a "toll holiday" at peak times in the mornings and when schools finish in the afternoon could help.

'Chronic' traffic problems 'exacerbated' - Nash

Labour TD Ged Nash said existing "chronic" traffic problems have been "exacerbated" by the closure of the Obelisk Bridge.

Mr Nash said certain areas have had traffic problems before, but the closure has had a knock-on effect resulting in a "chaotic" situation across the town.

He said that he has been trying to persuade Minister Ryan and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to suspend what he called the "town toll".

Based on figures received from TII, Mr Nash said this toll on the Donore Road generated around €4m last year and he estimates that removing it for the duration of the work at the Obelisk Bridge would cost around €3m.

He said that there was a precedent for the minister to intervene.

"It’s time the minister made a political decision and an intervention to allow Drogheda to breathe again, to work with TII to provide them with the resources they would require to remove the toll for a period of time.

"There is a precedent here, last year the minister decided to make an intervention to delay the planned increase in tolling, and I’m calling on him to do the same to allow Drogheda to breathe again."

Councillor Paddy Meade said that in the long term, the toll at Drogheda should be removed, but a suspension in the short term, for the next ten months, "would ease things around here".

The bridge has been closed for renovations (Pic: Anthony Murphy)

'Traffic chaos for Drogheda' - Munster

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster raised the issue with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil yesterday.

She said the Obelisk Bridge closure has resulted in "traffic chaos for Drogheda and the area around the bridge".

She said: "It's not acceptable to close the only crossing in the area for the guts of a year, forcing locals onto the tolled section of the M1, when they have to cross north to south of Drogheda or visa versa, to get children to school or to go to work, having to pay tolls during a cost-of-living crisis.

"Drogheda is already seriously congested to the point where you could be sitting in your car, or on a bus for up to an hour, it’s also affecting businesses in the town centre."

Ms Munster said the "obvious solution" was to give M1 toll passes to locals directly affected by the closure through their Eircode and accused State bodies of "passing the buck".

She said that she asked the Taoiseach to raise the matter with Minister Ryan, to liaise with Louth County Council, TII and the toll operators to find a workable solution.

No plans for toll waiver - department

The Department of Transport said that the setting of tolls is a function of TII and "as such, there is no formal consultative role for the minister in relation to tolls".

"There are no plans, at present, to introduce a waiver on tolls on the scheme in question," it said.

The department also said it provided funding to Louth County Council for the essential works at the Obelisk Bridge and that the implementation of the project and associated traffic management measures are the responsibility of the council.

In relation to the closure of the bridge and issues arising from it, TII said that this was "a local authority matter because it is a local road. TII has responsibility for the national road network".

Louth County Council said that traffic is being diverted into Drogheda and not onto the M1 and that the matter of tolls on the M1 and the waiver of them does not fall under its remit.

In a statement, the council said that following communications with "relevant authorities on the option of a temporary waiver on the tolls at the Donore Road Toll Plaza, it is understood it will not be possible to remove the tolls during the period in which the rehabilitation works on the Obelisk Bridge are being carried out".