Saturday 1 October 2016

Roads crisis sparks calls for farmers to help fund repairs

Darragh McCullough and Niall O'Connor

Published 19/08/2015 | 02:30

Warning: Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe
Warning: Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe

Rapidly expanding agricultural sectors such as dairying and forestry could be facing massive annual bills for road maintenance, amid calls for hundreds of millions of euro to fund the country's transport network.

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Road conditions are described as at 'breaking point' in the regions where the increase in milk production is most concentrated, with the maintenance backlog in Cork alone estimated at over €80m.

"The road network is in a crisis state as it is. We can't just go on breaking up roads and expect the taxpayer to pay for everything," said Cork deputy mayor, Joe Carroll.

The comments come just a week after Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe warned the Department of Finance that increased productivity in the dairy industry would leave the rural road network in desperate need of repair.

Mr Donohoe's officials wrote to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform insisting the Transport Department needs an extra €300m a year to prevent the road network falling into disrepair, with road maintenance budgets halved in many counties in 2008 when national finances dipped.

"Investment in local and regional roads is vital if the rural economy is to reach its full potential. Such investment will help businesses grow and create jobs," Mr Donohoe said.

A 50pc increase in milk production will generate an extra million tonnes of product to be hauled around Cork alone, with an additional 41,000 truck journeys on the roads.

A study commissioned by Cork County Council, where 25pc of the national dairy herd is located, estimated the increased annual road maintenance cost due to dairy expansion to be €1.5m.

While Mr Carroll stressed he fully supported dairy farmers' drive for expansion, he said he would be tabling a motion to address the issue of where the funds would come from to maintain the road network.

"We all want dairy farmers to succeed, but I'm calling for farmers and co-ops to shoulder at least some of the cost of the upkeep of the roads. We know the roads can't take it."

The Skibbereen-based councillor said that costing out the level of maintenance would strengthen farmers' demands for support at an EU level.

In response, the IFA's dairy chairman Sean O'Leary said that the €3.5bn being invested at both farm and processing level in the dairy sector up to 2020 would deliver extra jobs, export revenues and taxes from the sector.

"The necessary upkeep of rural roads should be funded from central taxation, as is the case at present," he said.

Engineers Ireland spokesman for Roads Eoin Ó Catháin, said there was no need for alarm about the impact of the dairy industry expansion on the national road network.

However, he admitted "hundreds of millions" of euro needed to be spent on the road network, with major work on any national route costing up to €1m per kilometre.

Most co-ops are upgrading their fleets to larger 27,000 litre tankers with a gross weight of up to 46t, with many of the country's smaller roads not designed to handle vehicles of this size.

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