Saturday 21 October 2017

Lives will be lost unless billions spent on roads, warns report

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

IRELAND'S road network needs a multi-billion euro cash injection to make it safe.

The Department of Transport has admitted that repairs costing €2.7bn are needed on the local and regional road network which links small towns and villages across the country.

And a new study from the National Roads Authority (NRA) also warns that lives will be lost unless a further €1.7bn is spent fixing more than 60 of our busiest roads.

A major study of the national road network suggests that accident rates will increase unless substandard roads are upgraded.

According to the report, these roads were "neglected" during the Celtic Tiger spending spree.

Despite more than €8bn being invested on new motorways and other routes over the past decade, around 2,700km of roads were essentially ignored.

The study identifies 63 out of 405 routes that need urgent upgrading to bring them up to a basic standard, with hundreds more also requiring work.

Among the major problems found were poor visibility because roads had too many bends, a lack of safe places to overtake, and a high risk of flooding because of poor drainage and poor road surfaces generally.

Some surfaces have dangerous potholes, a problem exacerbated by two extremely cold winters.

An analysis of fatal collisions completed by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) up to March 15 shows that of the 44 people killed so far this year, 37 died on two-way single carriageways -- the type of road highlighted most in the report.

RSA chief executive Noel Brett said the "vast majority" of accidents occurred on secondary and local roads.

"I cannot overstate the importance of dealing with the most dangerous secondary roads," he said.

The 'National Secondary Road Needs' study warns that unless investment is forthcoming, lives could be lost. "There is a risk that the accident rates on the NSRs (national secondary roads) will increase, with potentially a greater number of fatalities," it says.

"The conditions and safety on this network are likely to deteriorate unless improvement works are implemented."

URGENT

Some €1.7bn needs to be spent fixing 63 dangerous routes, many of which were not properly designed and were unsuited to carrying high volumes of traffic travelling at speeds of up to 100kmh.

The worst-affected roads are in the south-west, where 23 projects are identified. It is followed by the north with 16, the west with 14, the east with 10, and the south-east with seven.

The NRA said there was no funding available to carry out any major works because of cuts in the capital programme.

"Unfortunately, the tank is empty on the funding side," spokesman Sean O'Neill said. "We obviously have a plan for them, but we don't have the funding to put shovels in the ground."

Urgent repair works are also needed on some parts of the 95,000km of local and regional roads which link towns and villages.

"The backlog of repair work prior to the recent severe weather was estimated at approximately €2.7bn," according to briefing notes prepared the Department of Transport.

The financial headache now facing the Government comes as funding is being sought for major public transport projects including Metro North and DART Underground -- estimated to cost at least €4bn.

The study makes clear that the previous Government decided to invest in new motorways at the expense of the national secondary roads.

"Little capital expenditure or other work has been devoted to renewing the national secondary road network.

"In investment terms, the NSRs have, in practice, been going through a period of relative neglect," it says.

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