Potholes:mend the gap

Potholes might drive road users crazy but they’re uniting communities, local and online, to tackle the problem directly, writes…

Potholes might drive road users crazy but they're uniting communities, local and online, to tackle the problem directly, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER

AN AA ROADWATCH report earlier this week said 85 per cent of road users interviewed had reported hitting a pothole in 2010. For almost 32 per cent of motorists, this experience necessitated a garage repair to the car or a call-out by the AA.

Half the motorists that added comments to the AA’s questions said they did not see the point of reporting the potholes to their local authority.

But two online activists have entered into the fray to do battle on behalf of Irish road users. Potholes.ie allows road users to highlight the craters that are driving them potty. Set up three months ago by David Wall and Graham Fitzpatrick, the site currently has 526 potholes reported and documented.

David Wall has spent an estimated €600 on repairs to his own car – all because of bad roads, he says – “roads I’ve helped pay for in motor tax and other taxes”.

He would like to see “a percentage of the money being allocated to motorway development ring-fenced to maintain the secondary and tertiary roads that motorists have to use once they come off the motorways”.

The site lists a league table of counties in order of the number of potholes. It is important to point out that, because the site is fed by users and motorists, results may be skewed, and counties whose motorists are especially vigilant could appear worse than those which have lots of potholes, but nobody reporting them.

Cork is the county with the most potholes reported. The county’s council is aware of the problem and has allocated an emergency repair fund of €6 million to try and deal with the problem, says spokesman Tom O’Sullivan.

“We have targeted available resources at the roads that are in worst condition, having regard to the volume of traffic on such roads,” O’Sullivan says. “Cork has 12,000 kilometres of road network. Inevitably, this will mean that many of our minor tertiary roads with low traffic volumes will receive little attention in the current year.”

Since the site went live, Cork has fixed nine potholes.

Co Meath is in second place, with 88 pothole reports, and Dublin third, with 69 pothole write-ups.

Interestingly, Co Cavan has only one reported pothole. Maybe the activities of “the Pothole Terror”, Martin Hannigan, the man who famously painted several potholes with luminous paint to highlight the problem and began documenting road conditions in 1988, had an effect. Hannigan agreed to retire from his activities after appearing before Cootehill District Court in September last year.

Near the bottom of the league is Co Offaly, which had two reports. Both have since been fixed. Neighbour Monaghan holds the record as the only county not to have any reports of potholes on potholes.ie.

The site allows users to zoom into every pothole report, see when it was reported and if it has been fixed, says David Wall. “The county councils can download an Excel document of the reported potholes in their county, complete with Sat Nav co-ordinates, so there’s no excuse,” says Wall.

And they’re beginning to take note. “Our infrastructure people keep an eye on [potholes.ie],” says Olive Fahey from Meath Co Council corporate services.

Wall hopes the site will galvanise road users to action. Look at what was achieved with Ripoffireland.org, he says. “We highlighted the issues, the media picked up on it, and it stirred up the likes of Eddie Hobbs and Fine Gael to react. The idea was to get people talking. Mission accomplished.”

Wall and Fitzpatrick are not the only anti-pothole activists. The residents of Knockleigh Mountlong, outside Kinsale in Co Cork, have a petition to address a pothole problem that dates back to 2006.

One motorist furnished the county council office in Kinsale with receipts and photographic evidence of the damage done to his car as a result of the ongoing problem with potholes in late 2008. They managed to get the council to refund €890 of the €1,200 they had paid for repairs.

Since February of this year residents living on the L32151 have been filling the potholes with tar and chip that has left them out of pocket to the tune of €1,600.

What road users say

THE LONG-DISTANCE DRIVER

Jenny Rowley of Apace Couriers runs a delivery service between Wexford and Dublin. Since November last year, she has had to install two new sets of tyres on her car. A set of tyres would normally last six months, she says.

The potholes on the N11 from Enniscorthy to Wexford are not good to drive over, she says: “The potholes are causing accidents because people are swerving to avoid them.”

THE TAXI DRIVERS

Driver Colm Thompson says he had to replace the wishbone bushes on his four-year-old Volkswagen Passat. He attributes this to the “state of the potholes around Ballinteer”.

Fellow driver David McGowan believes the uneven road surfaces are more of a problem than the potholes: “The pothole repairs are often more of a problem than the holes themselves.”

THE JARVEY

Patrick Stanley drives a horse and carriage round St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. He recently broke a carriage wheel on a pothole on York Street. The pothole has since been fixed, but he’s not happy. “I had to go to Templemore to have it fixed. It cost €300 plus a day’s travel, not to mention a day’s loss of earnings.”

THE ECO CABBIES

Eco cabs are a brand-heavy fleet of tricycles that congregate at the top of Dublin’s Grafton Street. The cabs have no suspension so drivers have to weave around potholes, says Robert Irwin. “This is dangerous for other road users, with everyone trying to dodge them like slalom.” Fellow driver Mark Cummins adds: “It makes cycling in Dublin more dangerous.”

THE CYCLISTS

Cyclists are at the coalface of the pothole problem. On Boards.ie a writer with the user name Dr Colossus says he has “broken numerous spokes since Christmas trying to avoid some of the hazards”.

Another user, Tomasrojo, contacted Dublin City Council about a shallow rectangular cut-away in the middle of the road between Kilmainham Lane and Inchicore Road. He mentioned that it was “a hazard to two-wheeled vehicles, especially with traffic following, since it was hard to see and too wide to swerve around”. It was fixed within a week.

THE PARENT

Agitation is the way to go, says parent Paul Joyce, who lives in Coolboy, in south Co Wicklow. The roads are acutely dangerous, Joyce says.

“Cars and cyclists ferrying children to school have to drive on the wrong side of the road to avoid the potholes.” Joyce is the secretary of Coolfancy National School Parents Association and has organised community meetings that have been attended by Wicklow county councillors.

“We demand safe roads so that we can safely bring our children to school,” he says.

The Coolboy road surface was scheduled to be resurfaced in September but thanks to the community’s agitation this date has been brought forward to later this month.

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