Sunday 15 December 2019

Fewer than one in four defects on our busiest roads are being fixed

(Stock image)
(Stock image)
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The scandal of the country's underfunded road network is laid bare today in a report from the Department of Transport.

A value-for-money review finds that investment in ongoing maintenance across the national network, which carries almost half of all traffic, is at a similar level to 2000 and that essential repairs are not being carried out.

The study finds that fewer than one in four road defects identified on our most heavily-trafficked routes are not being remedied, with 10 local authorities failing to fix any of the almost 1,500 identified in 2014. It also finds that Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), which allocates funding for maintenance of the national road network, is lacking essential data needed to identify whether money is being effectively spent.

The report, 'Current Expenditure on National Road Maintenance - Value for Money and Policy Review', was conducted by the Economic and Financial Evaluation Unit at the Department of Transport with officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

It comes after the Irish Independent revealed in recent weeks that almost half of all regional and local roads controlled by local authorities are in need of urgent repairs, with some in such poor condition they are officially classed as "virtually undriveable".

The report notes that the annual maintenance budget for the national network, which comprises 5,304km of roadway, was just €39.5m in 2014, the year on which the analysis was based. This is similar to that which existed in 2000, despite the length of motorway kilometres increasing from 270km in 2006 to 904km today - roadway which requires much more extensive maintenance.

The report says an "effective and well maintained" road network plays a "crucial role" in job creation and economic growth, and there is a "clear financial rationale" for investment in ongoing maintenance. This is because extensive repairs can be three times more expensive if roads are allowed deteriorate.

But a lack of data means it cannot arrive at a "definitive overview answer" on whether the programme is more or less efficient between 2007 and 2014, the period under review.

It also says:

Funding levels are currently at €39.5m, a level similar to 2000. This represents a substantial drop from a peak of €57m in 2008, and after inflation is stripped out, expenditure in 'real terms' has been declining since 2001.

There is not enough data to assess if money is being spent effectively, particularly around bridge maintenance and the number of defects identified and repaired.

Funding to non-city local authorities has dropped by 35pc between 2007 and 2014 for ordinary maintenance. This represents a fall from an average of €1,595 per km to €1,028.

The city councils achieve higher allocations due to higher costs and traffic levels, generally three times the allocation to more rural counties.

Costs vary between local authorities. An examination of two councils found the cost of drainage and gully cleaning was €1,060 per km in one and €978 in the other; road sweeping cost €580 and €137, with differences for verge cutting (€383 and €530) and landscaping (€1,441 and €1,479).

TII, formerly the National Roads Authority, is responsible for maintenance of our national roads and provides funding to local authorities to carry out works on its behalf. A spokesman said that among the reasons why defects were not repaired was a lack of finances.

"A lot of it has to do with the limitations on funding in a majority of these issues," he said. Staff cuts in local authorities also impacted on their ability to deliver maintenance programmes across the national and non-national road network.

He said that concerns in relation to insufficient data being available were being addressed, particularly around bridge management systems.

"It is anticipated that as local authorities increasingly adopt new information technology …this will assist them in achieving improvements in maintenance delivery, albeit within the significant funding and staff resource constraints that they are obliged to work."

Irish Independent

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