On the road to nowhere: 45 routes axed as cutbacks bite
WORK on all major new road projects is being suspended because of spending cutbacks.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) has been ordered by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar to stop work on them, the Irish Independent has learnt.
This is in addition to the 40 projects already suspended.
Of the 45 routes being shelved, 32 are national primary and 13 are national secondary; bypasses include Slane, Clonmel, Thurles, Kenmare, Listowel, Dungarvan and Adare.
A major question mark has also been placed over three roads due to be bankrolled by the private sector in exchange for tolls.
These are the N11 Arklow to Rathnew/Newlands Cross; M17/28 Gort to Tuam; and the N11/25 Enniscorthy and New Ross bypasses.
The 45 road projects are among the first casualties of swingeing cutbacks looming in the Budget.
An Bord Pleanala is considering proposals for the bypass of Slane, where campaigners and residents insist the road is essential to save lives.
As many as 22 people have been killed either on the steep approaches to the bridge or on the bridge itself, as long-distance trucks negotiate the narrow inclines.
Just six roads projects are starting this year: bypasses for Belturbet, Longford and Tralee; The Downs separation project on the N4 dual-carriageway at Mullingar; and the Cork southern ring road and Carricksbridge to Dalystown (Westmeath) upgrades.
The other projects will be shelved once a preferred route is selected.
In a statement to the Irish Independent, Mr Varadkar confirmed he had "instructed the NRA to rein in spending on planning and preparatory works".
He said: "Specifically, the NRA is taking all road projects to the end of their current stage of planning and will suspend them at that point.
"In my view, we should focus the limited resources we have on maintain existing infrastructure and proceeding with the small number of shovel-ready projects that we can afford to proceed with.
"I do not believe that it is appropriate to continue to spend millions of euro planning projects when we do not know if we can fund them.
"It will come as great disappointment to local communities and business interests that projects have been suspended, but I am sure the public will see the sense in this policy change."
A spokesman for the minister said the suspended projects would be reactivated whenever funding became available, but this was unlikely in the current capital expenditure window up to 2014.
"Based on current plans, no new roads project will be commenced in 2012, 2013 or 2014."
If extra capital financing becomes available from additional tolling revenue or from the Current Expenditure Review, this will be used for smaller, shovel-ready projects which have already completed the planning process. One example is the N5 Ballaghaderreen bypass.
Referring to the public private partnership toll roads, the spokesman said: "The Government would like to see these projects completed, but this depends on obtaining financing from the private sector."
An NRA spokesman said he was aware of the minister's directive and believed it was appropriate in the current economic circumstances.
"The planning process is brought to the preferred route stage to define where the future road will go and remove speculation about location, thus impacting less landowners," the spokesman added.