Paul Melia: Lack of investment in maintenance is coming home to roost
Published 28/12/2015 | 02:30
This is the dull but necessary spending that no Government wants to commit to, and is so quick to cut when times are tough.
But the lack of continued and sustained investment in ongoing roads maintenance and repairs is coming home to roost.
The fact that so much of our network is in such poor repair prompts questions as to how the next Government should be spending its money, and what policies it puts in place to further reduce wear and tear.
Should it invest in new projects to relieve traffic bottlenecks, or target spending on maintaining the network? Should money be spent removing dangerous bends, or rebuilding roads in a virtually undriveable condition?
And should the next Government consider other measures, such as putting in place policies, incentives and public transport services to get people out of their cars? Should one-off housing be allowed proceed in isolated rural areas where these poor roads are located, adding to the problem over time?
The problem of under-spending is well flagged. Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe has repeatedly warned of a €300m funding gap to maintain our transport network - that's road and rail - in a steady state condition.
That has been somewhat addressed for 2016, but no-one living in rural Ireland should expect a €3bn-plus allocation to sort out roads in their locality when the next Budget is being drafted.
The problem is that Ireland is a much over-roaded country. With almost 100,000kms of road, ranging from high-speed motorway to country boreen, we have more road per head of population than most of our EU neighbours.
Maintaining that is expensive. There's the cost of surveying the road, and then putting in place the systems to flag problems. Then sourcing the funding to complete works ranging from minor surface repairs, to complete rebuilding.
It's motorists who will suffer unless money is spent, whether the private car owners or the haulier. On top of their income taxes, they also pay motor tax which amounts to around €1bn a year. The last thing they deserve is expensive repair bills.
The fact that parts of our busiest roads have been categorised as "virtually undriveable" should be a cause of serious concern.
Given the perilous state of our national finances in recent years, there simply wasn't the money to invest. But that comes at a price - instead of local authorities funding minor repairs and upgrades, many now face the prospect of essentially rebuilding carriageways, at a much higher cost.