Sunday 11 December 2016

Monday interview: We are under-investing in our roads by €120m a year - TII chief

Published 07/11/2016 | 02:30

Transport Infrastructure Ireland chief executive Michael Nolan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Transport Infrastructure Ireland chief executive Michael Nolan. Photo: Damien Eagers

Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) chief executive Michael Nolan has a clear set of priorities.

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The first is to maintain the 5,300km national road network - which carries some 45pc of all traffic - in good, safe repair. The second is to invest in upgrade projects. The problem with delivering on both these aims is a lack of funding.

"There is ordinary maintenance like picking up litter and fixing barriers, and capital maintenance including resurfacing and pavement works," he said. "We're about €120m a year behind in terms of investment. The current budget is around €180m to €200m - we need about €300m to keep it in a state of good repair. We spend around €50m on renewal of pavement (road surface), but need to bring it up to around €100m a year.

"We are behind in what we are investing in terms of the inter-urban motorways. We're at the lower end. There is a perception that it looks fine, but we're under-investing by a significant amount. It will cost us more to bring it up to a good state later on. The longer it goes on, the less safe the network becomes.

"It's not a secret, and the Department of Transport is working with us on this."

Appointed in June last year, Mr Nolan was head of major projects with the National Roads Authority before it was merged with the Railway Procurement Agency to create TII.

He said that while a lot of the national motorways built in the last 15 years are in good repair, the national secondary roads comprising around 2,000km of non-engineered carriageway require major works, both due to wear and tear and following major flooding and extreme weather events.

Read more: M50: Motorway or carpark? How Ireland's busiest route is at 'breakdown point'

Many of these roads will be need to be replaced. It is understood around 50 major schemes, and 100 smaller roads, are needed.

While the Government has committed to funding eight projects which are ready to go under the six-year capital plan, and has allocated funding to bring another five through the planning process, there is no money for others.

The danger is that unless TII begins planning now, it will not be able to get to work when money does become available.

"We don't have enough in the preparation pool and we should be running schemes through the planning process," Mr Nolan said. "The worst thing that could happen to us is in five years, to have no schemes.

"It can take up to 10 years for a major project to be delivered. The design process takes around three years, followed by another two years for planning and public consultation."

For a big scheme like the M20 between Limerick and Cork, these works can cost up to €15m.

Between hiring contractors, and construction timelines, another five years is added. Even smaller schemes costing between €5m and €15m could take seven or eight years to deliver, and that assumed there was no legal challenge and the planning process went smoothly, he said.

Works totalling €1.6bn are currently on the ground, including the Gort to Tuam PPP costing €600m - which will provide the final leg of the motorway between Galway and Limerick and should open in a year - coupled with the M11 Gorey and New Ross bypass, costed at €500m and due for completion in 2019.

The €370m Luas Cross City scheme will be completed next year, and there are also 20 smaller schemes under construction, removing dangerous bends.

Read more: Calls to treble road investment as M50 traffic problems now at 'breaking point'

Big projects under way are set out in the capital investment plan, totalling €730m, and advance works are under way.

The Naas Road widening scheme and Dunkettle interchange in Cork are the priorities and will get under way first.

However, there is one glaring omission from the plan - the M20 Cork to Limerick motorway, which would connect the country's second and third largest cities. This, Mr Nolan said, was a key project.

"The last major connection is Cork to Limerick, which will cost €700m to €800m," Mr Nolan said. "This is required for balanced regional development, and would act as a counterpoint to Dublin."

Irish Independent

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