Seanad debates

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Commencement Matters

Road Projects Status

10:30 am

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I hope he will provide good news on the upgrade of the N5 between Ballaghaderreen and Scramogue. I wish to emphasis how important the provision of capital funding is for this project, and it is a matter of urgency. I am very concerned about the high volumes of traffic using the road, which is our main route to the west. The section of road in question traverses many towns and villages and I am very concerned about the high volumes of traffic going through Strokestown, Tulsk, Ballinagar and Frenchpark and onto the Ballaghaderreen bypass.

I am also concerned at the excessive speeds at which people drive on the road. As an important route to the west, it should be much safer. Last week, there was another very serious collision and the road between Tulsk and Ballinagar was closed for several hours. This is not unique and there have been many accidents on this section of the road over the years. Four sites have been identified as accident clusters by Transport Infrastructure Ireland and up to 30 accidents have occurred on a bend in one section of the road just outside Frenchpark. Real action is needed.

I received an update from Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in February, stating that Roscommon County Council had completed the business case, the environmental impact statement and the compulsory purchase order documentation for the proposed N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramogue road project. All the documentation has been submitted to Transport Infrastructure Ireland for approval to make an application to An Bord Pleanála. Where is the project at? My understanding is that the business case was submitted to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and a response is awaited before its submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It will cost in excess of €100 million but it is badly needed. Initiatives have been launched in the context of the action plan for rural Ireland and the need for more balanced regional development and it is important that areas such as north Roscommon, which have gone through a very difficult time economically, have an adequate road network that allows people to get to their destinations in a timely and safe manner.

Can the Minister give an update on his commitment to this project? Can he also say where the project stands, in respect of the business case and the submission to An Bord Pleanála? It is our responsibility to do everything possible to reduce the risks and the number of accidents on this section of road. The part between Strokestown and Ballaghaderreen is a high-risk area and numerous accidents have occurred. We need to take real action and to invest to make the route a safer way to access the west.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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The most convincing arguments around issues of this nature are the ones that concern safety. Everybody knows that the amount of money available for roads is limited and we cannot just magic up money for every road that needs upgrading. The Senator's argument is compelling. Road safety is important and lives have to be saved so the TII is identifying accident black spots. Following the European court judgment that the TII could not charge VAT, an extra €17 million is now available for these black spots.Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, is being encouraged by my Department to use a portion of that money to deal with accident black spots and address death on the roads. The accidents to which the Senator referred on the road in question are a convincing argument why this should be considered by TII in its commitment to tackle black spots because of this rebate both this year and next year.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for TII under the Roads Acts 1993-2015 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network. The maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer. Due to the national financial position, there have been large reductions in Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure over the past several years.

Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter, in the first instance, for TII in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act. The Government’s capital investment plan, Building on Recovery - Infrastructure and Capital Investment, provides the strategic and financial framework for TII’s national roads programme from 2016 to 2022. As Minister, I have to work within the capital budgets included in the plan. In turn, TII has to prioritise works on the basis of the funding available to it.

Roscommon County Council is proposing a N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge road improvement scheme which extends from the eastern end of the Ballaghaderreen bypass to Scramoge, a distance of 33 km. Given the limited funding envelope available under the capital investment plan and the primary focus on maintenance and renewal of the network rather than new projects, this scheme is not included as part of the plan. TII has, however, provided an allocation of €700,000 to Roscommon County Council for the scheme this year to enable the planning process to progress. Roscommon County Council has completed the business case for the proposed N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge road project.

All major capital projects are subject to the project appraisal requirements in the public spending code and my Department's common appraisal framework for transport projects, as well as An Bord Pleanála’s development consent process. In this context, a cost-benefit analysis, CBA, for all schemes costing over €20 million is required as part of the business case for the project. In line with the project appraisal requirements, each CBA needs to be assessed by the economic and financial evaluation unit in my Department and then reviewed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The CBA for the Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge scheme has been submitted to my Department for evaluation. If the CBA were to be found compliant with project appraisal guidance, a separate decision would be needed on the business case which takes account of the availability of funding for the project. It is not possible at this point to indicate what the outcome of the project assessment process will be.

As regards ongoing maintenance on the route, TII allocates funding specifically for safety works based on its analysis of the network. This year, TII has allocated about €17 million for such works. Under its HD15 programme, safety works are based on an analysis of accident density across the network and those sections of the network with considerably higher than average accident densities are selected for analysis. Sections of road which are amenable to engineering solutions are prioritised for treatment. The road in question should be a candidate for this. In addition, TII operates a HD17 programme based on road safety inspection reports. These reports indicate which issues, for example signing, lining or safety barriers, need to be addressed on different sections of road and programmes are drawn up to deal with the priority issues.

It should be noted good pavements also contribute to road safety and TII has allocated approximately €50 million for pavements in 2017.

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his response. I must emphasise the importance of the progression of this project. He rightly stated we need to focus on projects which deal with improving road safety. The N5 road between Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge is an identified accident black spot and we need to ensure everything is done to ensure that capital funding is made available. I will continue to work with the Minister until we secure the funding because it is critical. Every accident that happens on a route that is not fit for purpose is one too many. We need to minimise the risk.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator made a powerful case and I am sure the Minister will not let her down.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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There is no pressure then.