Route cleared for drivers to get more rest areas
THE private sector will be allowed to build service areas across the motorway network to encourage drivers to stop and rest on long journeys.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) has said it will not oppose plans to provide facilities for motorists, if they meet strict criteria - including a requirement that they don't become a destination for local traffic.
The move comes after complaints that the authority, despite not being able to afford to deliver facilities, was opposing plans by the private sector to build rest areas offering food, fuel and parking.
However, a spokesman insisted that its only concern was that developments did not proceed with shopping facilities or other amenities which would attract local traffic and impact on the network.
A new policy statement shows 11 rest areas are needed across the country in order to comply with EU rules on providing facilities no more than 100kms apart.
There are two types - Type 1, which includes a full range of facilities such as restaurants, fuel, parking, children's play areas and toilets and showers. Type 2 provides basic parking, picnic and toilet facilities.
The NRA said it planned to develop five full areas - at Clonee-Blundelstown on the M3 in Meath; at the junction of the M6/M17/M18 in Galway; between Rathcoole and Naas on the M7; near the Port of Foynes on the N21/N69; and Sixmilebridge-Ennis on the M18 in Clare.
Another four are also proposed, at Mitchelstown/Fermoy (N8), Carlow-South Kilkenny (M9), Rathcoole-Naas (M7) and Delgany-Cullenmore (M11). These may be developed privately, while service areas already in place in Moneygall and Mayfield on the M7 may be suitable.
"We don't want them to become a destination. We want them to be on the network," a NRA spokesman said.
"This policy statement says we are taking into consideration what the private sector is doing, which is looking to develop on or just off the network. If they are in line with expectations we will be satisfied."
As many as 20pc of all traffic collisions could relate to sleep deprivation, with research from the Road Safety Authority suggesting that one in 10 drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel.
The NRA's Service Area Policy said it intended providing service areas when planning new or upgrading dual carriageways and motorways.
This includes a number of "off-line" service areas - removed from the motorway - which will be considered.
Each area must serve traffic travelling in both directions, meaning fly-overs may be required.
Lay-bys currently used by motorists to stop and rest will be closed to the public once the rest areas are in place, but may continue to be used by gardai for enforcement.
Some six service areas are already in place or under construction across the network. There were developed by the NRA, which are leased to the private sector.
EU rules require an upgrade of the national road network in certain stretches - for example between Cork and Shannon Foynes Port to connect with the motorway network - and rest areas must be provided on these roads by 2030.