Varadkar pledges to fill potholes

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar will allow local authorities to use ?40 million allocated to road improvements on road maintenance and repairs instead.Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar will allow local authorities to use ?40 million allocated to road improvements on road maintenance and repairs instead.Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 00:00

Declining rural roads have so far this year seen a Co Cork pothole swimmer go viral on Youtube and a Co Meath town's St Patrick's Day parade cancelled.

To tackle the "growing problem" of road maintenance and upkeep, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar today announced a series of measures to improve the condition of rural roads.

Mr Varadkar said has written to 29 local authorities to let them know they can use €42 million allocated to road improvements on emergency repair works on local and regional roads.

However next year there would be no budget for improvements on regional and local roads with the focus on maintenance, he said.

“Because resources are so limited, this focus on road maintenance means it won’t be possible to start any new local or regional road construction projects in the next couple of years," he said.  "While this will be a disappointment to some areas, there is no point in building new roads if we cannot maintain the existing network," he said.

An additional €2.7m would be allocated this year to drainage works in the worst-affected local and regional roads, Mr Varadkar said. Water “lying on roads” is a large cause of deterioration, he said. "We have identified a particular problem with surface water and poor drainage on rural roads. This new fund can be used specifically to improve road drainage, remove surface water, and address existing road drainage problems," he said.

There is a “real and growing problem” with local roads, particularly tertiary roads and regional roads in some rural counties, Mr Varadkar told RTÉ Radio.

The reason for the problem was because local authorities and the Department of Transport “haven’t had enough money” to maintain the roads as they wanted.

Mr Varadkar said chambers of commerce and councillors had been urging him to assist with road conditions.

He called on local authorities to spend more of the funding they receive from road tax on maintenance.

“Local authorities are the legal authority for their own roads and have responsibility for maintaining and improving roads. Each local authority is expected to use a portion of its own resources on road improvements, in addition to direct Government funding,"  he said in a statement.

The Department of Transport allocates money from motor tax receipts to each local authority, at least one third of which is ring-fenced as the State grant for the upkeep and maintenance of local roads. Local authorities then add to the State grant from the remaining two-thirds of its road taxes allocation, or from other sources of funding such as parking charges, or subsidies from the Department of the Environment.

While local authorities also spent road tax money on parks, housing and sewerage some were not "putting enough into roads”, Mr Varadkar said. Mr Varadkar did not have the power to force them to spend more on roads, he said. He could "name and shame" them, he said.

"There are huge variations between different local authorities in terms of how much of their own resources are being use," he said.

According to figures reported by The Irish Times earlier this week, Cork County Council, which received €40 million as a State grant for 2013, put up just €8 million of its own resources, or 17 per cent of total funding for road works. The percentage contributed by the council towards its own local and regional road works have declined from 47 per cent in 1994, even through the years of the economic boom.

In contrast, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, which received just €4 million from the State in motor tax receipts, put up €11 million of its own resources, or 58 per cent of total funding for 2013. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown contributed 65 per cent in 1994.

Among councils seemingly reluctant to contribute more of the road tax fund or other “own resources” to the upkeep of their roads are: Donegal, whose contribution was just 16 per cent; Laois (11 per cent); Longford (15 per cent); Offaly (15 per cent); Roscommon (12 per cent) and Sligo (9 per cent).

Motorways and national primary roads were "generally in a good condition" and where not, there is probably work scheduled to be done, Mr Varadkar said.

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