Thursday, 23 February 2017
I thank the Minister for coming. I am sure he has many pressing matters and I am aware that his time is valuable.
There is quite a bit of work being done on the N52 on which a four-mile stretch from Cloghan to Turin is being upgraded. It is the main Limerick to Dundalk road, but it has been totally closed for the past four months. The project is well ahead of schedule as there have been very few wet days, but in last week's edition of the local newspaper it was announced that the road would be closed for three months from 13 March to 12 June. During this period very little work will be done on Saturdays and none on Sundays. Including bank holidays, there will be 33 days in those three months on which no work will be done on site, even if there are no wet days which will cause delays in undertaking such work as moving soil. There could easily be ten such days. I implore the Minister to apply whatever pressure he can on the contractors to review the matter and extend their hours or work at weekends or on bank holidays. A lot of the work is not being done near houses and as such could be carried out at night. A lot of people will be discommoded and two businesses will be defunct while the work is ongoing, namely, Egan's Statoil station and the Cloghan Inn, a pub and restaurant. There is supposed to be local access, but this is a red herring as only two houses are facilitated. The best part of 100 are not facilitated and their occupiers have to travel five or six miles out of their way twice a day, even to make one journey. For those who make more than one trip, it adds an extra ten miles to their trip in each direction, a total of 20 miles.
I would like to clarify that the planning and execution of construction works on the N52 and any other national route are operational matters in which I have no function. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of construction works on individual national roads are the responsibility of Transport lnfrastructure Ireland, TII, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, in this case, Westmeath County Council. Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects are also matters for TII in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act. I understand the road scheme in question is the N52 - Cloghan to Billistown, phase 1, which is under construction. The work area for the project which is located approximately 5 km north east of Mullingar between Cloghan and Turin is located largely on-line along the existing N52. TII has advised that the contract was signed in August 2016 and that the construction works commenced that month. It anticipates that the works will be completed on programme in August this year.
TII has allocated €8.3 million this year to Westmeath County Council for land acquisition and construction works. Given the many competing demands for funding, this is a significant financial commitment to the upgrade of this section of the N52 and many local authorities would be envious of such an allocation.
On the road closure, I understand from TII that the original intention was that the road closure would have occurred from September to November 2016. However, the construction contractor and Westmeath County Council reviewed concerns about the shorter working days and the likely weather conditions during that period and it was agreed that the planned three-month road closure would be rescheduled to commence in March 2017. TII advises that the contract has not been delayed as a result of this change. The works remain on programme, to be completed in August this year. The necessary statutory road closure notice has been published for the amended closure period and a map indicating the location of the road closure and the diversions to be put in place is available on the council's website. I also understand that, as part of this process, the council provided an opportunity for anyone who wished to object to the closure of the road to lodge a submission to the transportation section, Aras an Chontae, Mullingar, not later than Tuesday, 21 February 2017. TII advises that the main driver of the three-month closure period is the need to address health and safety concerns. Sufficient time must be allowed for the safe construction of this on-line section of the road improvement, having regard to the extent and nature of the construction work and the relocation of utilities.In these circumstances, it is considered that a three-month road closure is prudent.
Consideration was given to accelerating the works with a view to completion within a shorter timeframe but in light of the assessment of health and safety risks, including night time working risks and associated costs, it was not considered appropriate for this scale of project. In other words, costs and safety issues are the difficulty, which I am sure the Senator will appreciate. Diversion routes are published and notice of closure and traffic management arrangements, including Variable Message Signs, will be in place for the duration of the road closure.
I note the Senator's concerns and I will bring them to the attention of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. This is an operational matter for assessment and decision by TII and Westmeath County Council having considered the submissions received.
I appreciate the moneys provided for this road project. I was to the fore in demanding and securing some of the outlay for it. This stretch of road is one of the most deadly in Westmeath. The last road fatality in Westmeath occurred on it. The victim was a neighbour of mine who was knocked off his bicycle and killed. May he rest in peace.
I agree with the points made by the Minister in regard to safety and costs. As I said, I appreciate that this project is under way and I take some comfort from what the Minister had to say in his final remarks. I understand that work on the project is to commence on 13 March 2017 and that it will be suspended from Thursday, 16 March 2017 to Sunday 19 March 2017, inclusive.
As a result of this project people in the local community will get jobs, which is great news in light of already announced imminent job losses, hopefully short term, in the area that will have huge repercussions locally. I welcome that the Minister proposes to raise my concerns in regard to safety with TII.
As I said, I will bring the Senator's road safety concerns to the attention of TII. In light of the current precarious position of road traffic and passengers in this country safety is an important issue.