Thursday, 26 October 2017
Road Projects Status
I will be as brief as I can given that we are running late. Will the Minister undertake to prioritise funding for the Bandon southern relief road when his Department makes its submission on the next national investment plan? I raised the same issue in December last year when I asked that this project be brought forward for priority funding.
Bandon town has seen major upheaval in recent years. Having been flooded on several occasions, we are currently halfway through a major flood relief scheme. In addition, a public realm project, implementation of which is to commence in 2019, will increase and enhance the town centre as a public realm. Notwithstanding these welcome developments, the key problem for the town remains the volume of traffic passing through it, with anything from 9,000 to 14,000 vehicle movements per day. This level of through traffic is choking the town, with a significant proportion of movements comprising heavy goods vehicles whose size and capacity are unsuited to a town centre. We need an overall plan to ensure traffic is moved out of the centre so that the town can develop in accordance with its potential. Some 6,500 people live in Bandon and the county development plan envisages an increase in population of 1,000 over the next ten years. We must have a plan in place to ensure traffic is diverted from the town centre.
The proposal for an extension of the Bandon southern relief road involves constructing a bridge over the R63 road, which would override the existing steep terrain, after which a 2.5 km single carriageway would be built connecting on to the western part of the town. The approximate cost of the project is some €7.5 million, which is a small investment in the greater scheme of things. It would, however, represent a major investment in facilitating the development of the area. Bandon is the gateway to west Cork, with anyone wishing to go west having to go through it. If we can increase the potential for traffic to flow more easily through the town, there will be a broader economic benefit to the whole of west Cork. This key infrastructural project will allow Bandon and the surrounding towns to flourish. It involves an extension to the bypass, something that has been mooted for many years, as the Cathaoirleach knows. Will the Minister prioritise the necessary funding for the benefit of Bandon and the entire west Cork area?
I thank Senator Lombard for raising this important issue and commend him on making such a strong case for the Bandon southern relief road. I agree with his comments regarding the volumes of through traffic and his observation that the town serves as a gateway to west Cork, which I visited recently. The argument he makes has a great deal of merit but I dispute his claim that the projected cost of €7.5 million is very little in the greater scheme of things. Whenever people look at what is apparently the large budget for roads, they conclude that the allocation they are seeking for their particular project is relatively small. However, it must be borne in mind that we do not have enough money not just for capital projects but also for current expenditure. Senator Lombard's project will be competing with many other proposals, which is not to say it is ruled out. My Department and I will take into consideration the arguments he has made previously and the very strong case he has made today in the context of submissions regarding the ten-year national investment plan.
As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in respect of the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. 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. Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network, and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer. The national financial position following the financial crisis necessitated very large reductions in the Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure. For this reason, the focus had to be on maintenance and renewal rather than major new improvements in recent years. I envisage this emphasis on maintaining existing assets will continue into the next capital plan programme.
The Building on Recovery Capital Plan 2016-2021 and the capital plan review allocations mark a significant step forward in terms of restoring funding to the levels needed to maintain the road network in a "steady state" condition and allowing for some investment in road improvement schemes. The allocations and planned projects for the first years of the proposed ten-year plan will align with the existing capital plan as supplemented under the capital plan review. As part of that review, additional funding is being made available to allow Transport Infrastructure Ireland to develop a pipeline for future projects. As all capital projects are subject to appraisal in line with the requirements of the public spending code and my Department's capital appraisal framework, I do not envisage a list of projects being put forward for consideration as part of the ten-year plan but rather a budget requested which would allow TIl to advance suitable major and minor national road projects, once project appraisal and planning work is satisfactorily completed. It would, therefore, be premature to take a view on the prioritisation of individual projects, including the Bandon southern relief road. As I am sure the Senator appreciates, there continues to be many competing demands for available resources both within the transport sector and across other economic sectors. However, I assure him that in the light of his presentations today, I will ensure the Bandon project is considered on its merits.
I thank the Minister for his response. It is important that a roadmap and timeline should be in place for these projects because people need to have some idea as to when development will commence. Whether it is local authorities planning the development of towns through county development plans or members of the general public, people need clarity as to what precisely is proposed to be done, including timelines for core projects.