Councils splurge on roadworks
Authorities told to use funding or lose it
LOCAL authorities are carrying out a roadworks blitz this month in a race to spend the last available funds from their budgets.
Data from AA Roadwatch show that there are roadworks being carried out in almost every county in the country this month -- with 'stop-go' traffic light systems, lane closures and road closures leading to widespread disruption for motorists.
There are more than 30 roadworks projects ongoing in the greater Dublin area and more than 60 around the country -- including no fewer than nine in Donegal alone.
County and city councils are given allocations from the €411m budget for roadworks every year. They generally lose any funds that have not been used up by the end of the year.
AA Roadwatch spokesman Conor Faughnan said there was a traditional surge in roadworks activity at this time of year as councils rushed to spend the last of their budgets.
However, he said local authorities should get more roadworks done in the summer when the weather is better and the school-related increase in traffic is absent.
"I know of no good reason why there should be minimal activity in August and a flurry of activity in November," he said.
Mr Faughnan also said that there was a ban on roadworks in Dublin during December to avoid further traffic congestion during the busy Christmas shopping season.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) has taken over responsibility for the administration of road maintenance grants for regional and local roads from the Department of Transport.
According to the NRA's official policy document, councils are obliged to claim their allocated road grants in the "current year" -- with December 6 as the cut-off date for payment in almost all circumstances.
It said that such grants "cannot be carried forward to the following year".
The Department of Environment secretary-general Geraldine Tallon confirmed last week that local authorities had been sent a memo recently to warn them that all budget surpluses, including those made from efficiency savings, must be returned to the Exchequer.
There are fears among local authorities that next year's roadworks funding will be severely curtailed due to the massive deficit in the public finances and forthcoming cutbacks.
Donegal-based Fianna Fail councillor Liam Blaney said that roadworks were carried out by councils all year round.
"I don't think it's fair to say it's just at the end of the year," he said, arguing that the roadworks were bringing long-term benefits to motorists. "I'd far prefer being held up with roadworks than with potholes."
The Department of Transport confirmed last night that the regional and local roads investment programme was run on an annual basis and funds are not carried forward from year to year.
"Expenditure allocated at the beginning of the year must be expended by December of that year," a spokeswoman said.
Ireland's roads network -- which exceeds 91,000km -- is almost twice that of any other individual EU member state on a per capita basis.