Tuesday 21 May 2019

Thousands of kilometres of Ireland's roads disintegrating due to chronic funding gap

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Stock photo
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Thousands of kilometres of our roads are disintegrating due to chronic underspending on maintenance while cold and wet weather devastates the network.

More than 12,200km of the local and regional road network is now in urgent need of upgrading because it is in "severe structural distress" with deep potholes and crumbling surfaces, which in some cases has resulted in carriageways being "virtually undriveable".

A survey of the network by local authorities, published by the National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC), suggests that funding for local and regional road maintenance will have to double to prevent further deterioration.

But the report does not take into account the severe impact of Storm Emma last month, as local authorities have yet to fully assess the damages arising from days of sub-zero temperatures.

The survey rates the condition of roads controlled by local authorities from one to 10, with roads classed between one and four deemed to be in worst condition.

Some 77,740km (82pc) of the 94,405km regional and local road network was surveyed during 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, and 12,244km (13pc) was found to be in the 1-4 category. This compares with just over 10,000km a year previously.

The county with the highest proportion of regional roads in the poorest condition are in Monaghan at 15pc. Overall, 6pc of regional roads (774kms), 11pc of local primary (2,365km), 17pc of local secondary (4,676km) and 28pc of local tertiary roads (4,429km) fall into the worst category.

The NOAC said some councils believed that investment would need to double to restore the network to good working order. It also added that some tertiary, or least-trafficked roads, could not be surveyed.

"Local authorities indicated … that surveying of some tertiary roads was difficult or impossible due to their condition preventing vehicular access," it said.

The report also said funding for maintenance fell from €607.5m a year to €321.5m between 2007 and 2017.

The Department of Transport said an additional €100m a year needed to be spent to maintain the network in a steady-state condition, adding that the funding gap would be eliminated by 2021. But transport sources suggest the longer it takes to complete urgent repairs, the worse the problems will become.

"Storm Emma had the perfect conditions to destroy roads with a lot of moisture which freezes, then it thaws, then freezes again," a source said. "Now there's a lot more rain at the tail end of the spring which can wash out sub-surface materials.

"You could see certain local and regional roads being closed. We could be playing catch-up for the next three to five years. It's going to cause a lot of frustration."

The department has previously said that €1.15bn would be needed every year to maintain the network in a steady state. Of this, €580m would be needed for local and regional roads, and the remainder for the national network of some 5,500km. Grants increased this year by 29pc to €417m, but it warned that until the backlog of repairs was completed, road conditions were likely to worsen.

"Until steady state is achieved and progress is made on addressing the backlog, there is likely to be a disimprovement in the ratings reported by NOAC," it said.

It is understood that roads of "strategic importance" will be prioritised for repairs as funding becomes available.

Irish Independent

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