MOTORISTS will be forced to continue to drive on potholed roads because cash-strapped local authorities have been told there isn't any money to repair them.
Despite the millions of euro worth of damage caused to national, local and regional roads during the Big Freeze, the Department of Transport has told councils they will have to pay for repairs from existing budgets.
It means that road improvements -- such as removing dangerous bends or resurfacing works -- will have to be deferred as craters are filled in and roads made safe for motorists.
But with the cold weather expected to return before the end of the week, it means that more damage is likely to be caused.
Snow fell in some parts of Donegal yesterday as Met Eireann warned that temperatures could plummet to --4C over the coming days.
Forecaster Eoin Sherlock said that snow would fall over the coming days, mostly on higher ground in Ulster and Connacht, but that most would be washed away by rain. He could not rule out more snow in January and February.
Further snowfalls could wreak havoc on our crumbling road surfaces. The situation is so bad in Cootehill, Co Cavan, that motorists are forced to dodge a massive crater measuring 4ft long and 3ft deep.
In Newbridge, Co Kildare, shoppers must take detours around massive potholes; while outside Mitchelstown in Cork some locals have even taken to placing plants in potholes as a means of highlighting the depth of the damage.
The problem is acute throughout Cork city, including Rochestown, Knocknaheeny, Glanmire, Togher and the Kinsale Road, and across the county in Fermoy, Doneraile, Mallow, Midleton and Youghal.
Tarmac on some older roads has broken down, with one pothole on the Kilcrumper-Grange road in north Cork being nicknamed 'Jaws' by locals because of the inability of motorists to escape its clutches.
Massive potholes on the main road through the Phoenix Park in Dublin are damaging cars, while the city's quays are littered with craters.
Website www.potholes.ie says there are almost 800 potholes across the State, with hundreds more appearing over recent weeks as road surfaces cracked as the snow and ice melted.
However, the Department of Transport said no extra money would be made available to fund repairs.
"The provision for the maintenance and improvement of regional and local roads in 2011 will be €374.6m," a spokeswoman said. "This funding will be used almost exclusively to maintain the fabric of the extensive network of some 90,000km. Unlike in past years there will be little new road building."
But Fine Gael transport spokesman Simon Coveney said the department was obliged to ensure that roads were safe to travel on, and that any applications for increased funding should not be rejected out of hand.
"If local authorities don't have the money to keep roads safe, the department has an obligation to step in," he said.
"It has a responsibility to ensure the road network is safe. Local authorities will have different requests, and councils will not request additional money unless it's absolutely needed."
The lack of extra money for repairs comes after last winter's Big Freeze and flooding which caused €180m worth of damage to roads. Despite the devastation, the Department of Transport refused to allocate extra money.
Funding for local and regional roads has been cut in recent years and will fall from €370m this year to just €240m by 2014.
In 2009, Wicklow County Council was given €20.6m to repair, maintain and improve its roads. The following year its funding was cut to €9.9m.