Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
Hildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
When my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, addressed the House yesterday, he outlined the planned investment of €3.5 billion to fund projects and programmes under the Department's transport remit in 2021. An increase of €617 million, or 33%, in capital will allow the Department to continue with its investment in capital expenditure under the national development plan, despite the major challenges created by Covid-19. Today, I wish to outline in more detail how this investment will impact the road, maritime and aviation sectors. The impact of Covid-19 is still evident on our road network. Road traffic volumes fell dramatically in spring due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. The volumes fell to around one third of the 2019 levels during April. The volumes recovered significantly as restrictions eased and appear to have plateaued recently at around 80% of 2019 levels.
Road construction works were also suspended during the peak Covid-19 restrictions before recommencing in May. Despite the above Covid-19 impacts, I am pleased to inform the House that there have been no significant delays to investment in the roads programme arising from Covid-19. In 2021, we will invest €1.3 billion in our road network, with a national roads budget of €799 million. We will continue the extensive roads programme, with the following projects all at construction stage: the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin in Sligo; the N22 Ballyvourney to Macroom upgrade scheme; the N5 Westport to Turlough Road; the N56 Dungloe to Glenties; M8-N40-N25 Dunkettle interchange upgrade; and the M50 enhancing motorway operations by introducing variable speed limits.
To ensure that our road network is of the highest standard, an additional €15 million has been provided towards the maintenance of the regional and local roads network. This will assist in progressing towards a steady state level of investment in the network to ensure that the necessary expenditure required to hold the network in its existing condition and avoid further deterioration is provided. This brings the total maintenance and investment budget for regional and local roads to €555 million. Construction work on a number of important regional local road projects will be progressed, including the Sallins bypass; Bettystown to Laytown link road; Coonagh to Knockalisheen distributor road; and the Tralee northern relief road.
In 2021, allocation includes funding to re-seal and strengthen roads across the network. Funding will also be provided for safety improvement works, bridge rehabilitation works, maintenance of former national roads and community involvement schemes. This will assist in the sustainable use of our roads by the wider community for walking, cycling, as well as cars, buses and road haulage. The Department appreciates that within the overall parameters set for the grant programme, local authorities might need to target funding at particular problem areas and there is sufficient flexibility in the structure of the grant programme to allow for this. Apart from a requirement that a minimum of 15% of the restoration and improvement grant is spent on the more heavily trafficked regional roads, each local authority has the discretion to decide on allocations to other categories of road. It is also open to each local authority to allocate its own resources to priority areas.
One key area that I wish to progress is improving safety for children and families who wish to cycle to school. A few weeks ago, I met the National Transport Authority to discuss how best to deliver on the programme for Government commitment in this area. I am delighted that budget 2021 provides the funding required to allow us to develop a safe routes to school programme and see it commenced next year. Budget 2021 provides for a spend of approximately €1 million per day to support walking and cycling infrastructure. Those allocations can deliver real change in terms of how our children get to and from their schools. As part of this change, safe routes to school will see enhancements and improvements to the front of school environments to better promote sustainable and safe entry to and exit from school grounds, expanded provision for bicycle parking at all schools across the country and delivery of improved walking and cycling infrastructure to schools. The benefits of this investment will not only improve facilities for walking and cycling, it will mean better physical health, improved air quality, less congestion and betters places to live.
The sum of €108 million has been allocated to ensure the safety and competitiveness of maritime transport services and the productive and safe use of our seas. My Department is responsible for the survey, certification, licensing and inspection of vessels, certification of seafarers and also the inspection and approval of ports and port facilities. This also includes an additional €2.8 million in capital funding for the Irish Coast Guard and Commissioner of Irish Lights, which will also ensure that the provision of an effective emergency response service for marine search and rescue through the Irish Coast Guard.
There is also funding of €31.3 million for the aviation sector, €21.3 million for the regional airports programme and an additional €10 million in capital support for Cork and Shannon Airports.