Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I will take more if you are offering, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
I wish to raise the issue of the N73. The N73 is a national secondary route. At present it could be considered no more than a local road in terms of how it has been treated in investment terms. The route will take you from west of Mallow to Rathmore and on up north, through Mallow and on into Mitchelstown. There is a part of the road, from Clogher Cross to Waterdyke or, as we know it locally, Canteen Cross, and also at Annakisha South where, up to now, for this year alone, through Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, €1.5 million has been spent to bring the process to tender to enable works to be carried out on approximately 3 km of road. I am given to understand that Cork County Council and TII have done all the preparatory work on this. All we are asking for is €10 million to make this road safe. It is currently unsafe. When heavy goods vehicles pass each other on the road, they have to slow down to a stop in order to pass because there are no verges on the road and you have to traverse the white line in order to pass at certain sections on the road if you are driving a heavy goods vehicle. The road is an important road because it is a national secondary road. I cannot emphasise that enough. It has been devoid and starved of investment for decades now.
All we are asking is that the Government not take the foot off the pedal in terms of the next phase of the project. We are fearful that if there is any reprofiling of roads spending - in other words, cutbacks - to rob Peter to pay Paul, we will get caught in the cross hairs in north Cork, between Mallow and Mitchelstown. I am pleading with the Government not to take this off the agenda and to allow it to go to the next stage. In the context of overall national spend on roads, €10 million is but a drop in the ocean. It is a significant amount but it would have an untold benefit for people travelling from Kerry to Dublin, for people who travel from Mallow to Mitchelstown and vice versaand, in particular, for local traffic. That Mallow to Mitchelstown road is a major arterial route for local traffic, local commerce, families bringing children to school and people who travel for medical reasons, including acute medical reasons, for care in Dublin. They would travel from Rathmore on through Mallow and on up to Dublin. There is a part of the road I have just mentioned, from Clogher Cross to Canteen Cross, or Waterdyke, that has to be done. I am imploring the Government not to take it off the agenda. I have been in touch with the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Transport, Deputies Michael McGrath and Eamon Ryan, and I have had engagement with the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, about this. I am asking that it stay on the agenda.
Yes. I have a specialty in roads as well as everything else. I do understand the value of a secondary national route. I have loads of them around my area, so I totally understand. Deputy Sherlock has been to all the Ministers in respect of this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Transport.
I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. As he might be aware, the Minister has responsibility for overall policy and securing Exchequer funding regarding the national roads programme. What Deputy Sherlock is after asking for is €10 million to ensure that the N73 stays on the table and does not get squeezed when the next budgetary decisions are being made. That is what I am hearing.
Once funding arrangements have been put in place with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, under the Roads Acts 1993-2015, and in line with the national development plan, NDP, the planning, design, improvement and upgrading of individual national roads is a matter for TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. TII ultimately delivers the national roads programme in line with Project Ireland 2040 and the national planning framework.
I am informed that TIl conducts regular safety analyses of the national road network, which includes the N73 between Mallow and Mitchelstown. Each year, TIl carries out a collision analysis of the entire national road network, in accordance with the requirements for network safety ranking of the EU directive on road infrastructure safety management. The purpose of this analysis is to identify locations of high concentrations of collisions. Having regard to the outcome of the analysis, it is then the responsibility of the relevant local authority, as the road authority for the area and in this case Cork County Council, to devise proposals to identify any appropriate road safety interventions.
In addition to the network safety ranking process, TII periodically carries out road safety inspections on the entire national road network, as provided for in the EU directive. The purpose of these inspections is to verify the characteristics and defects of an operational road for reasons of road safety. This is a proactive measure that is done in tandem with the network safety analysis.
Turning to route upgrades and safety on the N73, the Clogher Cross to Waterdyke realignment scheme is one of two minor improvement schemes being progressed by Cork County Council. The scheme has been progressed through planning and design and the construction tender documents have been prepared to go to tender this year. TIl has approved an allocation of €1.5 million to the council in 2021 to enable this work to progress and the latter recently requested approval from TII to go to tender with the scheme. TII should be in a position to confirm whether the tender process can proceed once funding arrangements for 2022 and 2023 are finalised. I believe that answers the main part of the Deputy's Topical Issue matter.
The Annakisha South road improvement scheme, the second minor scheme on the N73, has also received planning approval and tender documents have been prepared. Unfortunately, the amount of funding available and the number of schemes that can move to construction in any given year are limited. Therefore, future construction of this section of national road will depend on the level of funding available to TII for national roads generally and the relative prioritisation of the scheme when compared with similar schemes nationally. TII has provided an allocation of €300,000 to Cork County Council for the Annakisha South scheme in 2021. Both of these minor schemes will take account of current active travel policy, in accordance with TIl standards, and the council's transport policies.
TII provides annual grant allocations to local authorities for the upkeep and maintenance of national roads. I will convey exactly what the Deputy said on this matter to the Minster. It is clear from the response the Department has provided that a great deal of work has been done on the project and significant investment has gone into it. It looks to be a project that can hit the road.
I thank the Minister of State. I ask her to use her good offices and positive influence to bend the ear of the Ministers, Deputies Eamon Ryan and Michael McGrath, and perhaps the Taoiseach, whom I have also contacted about this issue. It makes eminent sense to progress this project to tender now. If TII has allocated €1.5 million for one stretch of the road, namely, Clogher Cross to Canteen Cross, and €300,000 for Annakisha South, all that needs to be done now is to press the green light for the project to go to tender and get the jobs done. The road will then be right for a considerable period of time, excepting normal upkeep and maintenance.
My fear, however, is that the project will slip back down the agenda in terms of national prioritisation if there is any reprofiling of budgets for roads in the Estimates process. I am raising this issue at a critical time in the hope that every Minister will look at the case for the project and see it stacks up to make the investment at this stage rather than wasting the moneys that have been spent thus far by not progressing it. If it is not progressed now, it will not be progressed next year or in the years after that. It will go into a queue, we will be waiting until kingdom come for the works to be done and the investment of €1.5 million and €300,000 will be for naught. We should spend the money wisely to upgrade the road now, for the reasons I have outlined. The RISM metrics are a load of codswallop. I appreciate that the Minister of State is responding on behalf of another Minister but the reality is that this is an unsafe road. Just because an accident or collision has not happened does not mean it will not happen. The problem is the number of heavy goods vehicles that use the road and have to traverse the white line at points where there are no verges. There is no margin of error for drivers, which is why they have to slow down to a stop.
I thank the Deputy again for raising this issue. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I know the roads around Galway very well. I expect there are many people who use the N73 who have far more sway than I in advancing the project. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, who has responsibility for this matter, has set out that under the HD 15 network safety analysis programme, safety works are based on accident density across the network. Those sections of the network with considerably higher than average accident densities are selected for analysing and sections of the road that are amenable to engineering solutions are prioritised for treatment. I will take the points the Deputy has raised this evening to the Minister. It is clear this project has been identified in previous costings around planning and design. I know that when one sees something going to planning and design, the funding normally follows. The decision is not for me to make in this instance but I will ensure it is on the Minister's agenda.