'No funding' to fix dangerous roads
Construction works on the N81 in Co Wicklow. Only three of Ireland's 60 worst accident blackspots have been upgraded a year after plans to fix them were tabled. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Only three of Ireland’s worst accident blackspots have been upgraded a year after plans to fix the country’s 60 deadliest road bends were trumpeted.
While work has begun on another 28 hazardous corners, a huge question mark now hangs over the remaining 29 projects.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar announced in January last year that he was handing over €100 million to overhaul half of the 60 identified blackspots.
But he admitted at the time that the other half would only get the go-ahead if the funds were available.
It is understood that the National Roads Authority (NRA), which has responsibility for carrying out the upgrades, has been told there is no money in the budget this year for more works. Another €100 million is needed to carry out the next phase of the safety overhaul.
Plans to fix some of the country’s most dangerous road bends — in counties Cavan, Donegal, Kerry, Kilkenny, Laois, Limerick, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath and Wicklow — have now been effectively shelved.
Sean O’Neill, spokesman for the NRA, said: “As of right now, no additional funding for the remaining schemes is in place.”
It is understood the need to buy land from local landowners would have delayed construction on some of the earmarked upgrades.
AA director of consumer affairs Conor Faughnan said there were obvious financial difficulties facing the Department of Transport, but he insisted motorists hit by extra taxes in the last budget were promised they would see road improvements in return.
“Let’s have that €100 million,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, motorists did actually supply that extra money.
“We had a tax increase on fuel lumped upon us at the start of 2012 and we paid that all year long, so there is more than enough taken off us there to supply the €100 million.”
He added: “I’m given to understand that these locations have been identified as dangerous. So surely that must give them sort of priority.”
Mr Faughnan also said the completion of just three projects since last year was a “pretty disappointing outcome”.
“Unless they make significant progress in the new year, it doesn’t seem as if a tremendous amount has been done,” he said.
However, Mr O’Neill said it was a 24-month programme and good progress was being made.
“It isn’t instant coffee — you don’t just add water and stir,” he said.
“This involves land purchases, engineering, design and works to straighten out roads. We will be halfway complete by the end of 2013 — that’s good progress.”
Works at the 28 blackspots where construction began during 2012 are expected to be completed this year, according to the NRA.
The authority said the projects will cost exactly the €100 million set aside for the first half of the upgrade programme.
The Department of Transport could not say when that money would be available.
“As the minister stated at the time, the remaining 29 projects will go to construction when funding permits,” said a spokeswoman.
“They are being progressed through the planning process by the NRA and will be shovel-ready as funding becomes available.”
The three completed projects were road realignments on the N55 between Corduff and Ballytrust in Co Cavan, on the N67 at Grag, in Co Clare, and on the N24 at Kilshane in Co Tipperary.
Earlier this week, the Road Safety Authority released a report which showed Cavan was the only county in Ireland to record an increase in the level of fatalities from 2007 to 2012.
The figures for fatalities in Offaly remained static during the five years while in Cavan road deaths increased by 20 per cent.
Leitrim, Laois, Kildare, Monaghan and Clare showed the biggest reduction in road deaths in the five years that set new safety records throughout the country.