Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Road Projects Status
I welcome the Minister and thank him for coming to the House to deal with this Commencement matter. It is brief. I am raising this issue on behalf of public representatives in Athy, County Kildare. I have some claim to fame there in that my family is originally from there and is in business and in the commercial life of the town itself in Duke Street. I know it well. As I am there on a weekly basis, I am very familiar with County Kildare and with Athy in particular. It was once a very successful market town and a particularly attractive town. It is served by wonderful public transport because there is a train service there. It is a town that from the 1960s right up to the present has seen a diminishing of employment and economic activity. However, it has great prospects being so near to Dublin and there is a great potential future in respect of the provision for the Athy ring road. My understanding is that An Bord Pleanála has now given the go-ahead. There were planning issues and difficulties but they have been resolved. Kildare County Council is keen to get on with this project. People want to see this road put in as quickly as possible, subject to the available finances. They want to know where this project is on the priority list for the Minister's capital programme in the context of the town's renewal and revitalisation and in respect of capitalising on its potential. It is an important hub for people doing business and living there and it has good transport connections. We are trying to find out what is the status of the ring road in the grand scheme of things and what sort of funding has been identified. Where is the priority in getting this initiative and this road up and running?
I thank the Senator for raising this important subject. Although I get an enormous number of requests of this sort as Topical Issues in the Dáil and as Commencement matters here, it does matter. It would be wrong for me to say that when the Senator raises matters of this sort, they are disregarded, disposed of or ignored or that we are going through the motions. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of roads that potentially could be brought to my attention but when they are, it does make an impact, not just on me but on the Department. It puts the issue immediately on the radar. What Senator Boyhan is doing today is useful and I hope will be beneficial in sorting out the problem of traffic congestion in Athy.
The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a statutory function of the local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on such roads are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of projects to be funded from these moneys is a matter for each local authority. 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 meant there were very large reductions in Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure after the financial crisis. Consequently, the focus has had to be on maintenance and renewal, rather than major new improvements in recent years and I envisage that this emphasis on maintaining the assets will continue into the next capital plan period. The Building on Recovery capital plan 2016-2021 and the capital plan review allocations mark a significant step 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 Athy southern distributor road is one of the improvement projects designed to address bottlenecks on the road network included in the capital plan. Following An Bord Pleanála’s approval, to which the Senator referred, of the project in October, the next stage is for Kildare County Council to do the detailed project design and to prepare the contract documents. Under the Department’s funding programme for the regional and local road improvement projects included in the capital plan, it is anticipated that the main construction contract for the Athy project will start in mid-2020. It is hoped that it will be completed, I hope this answers the question, by 2022. It is likely that some advance works contracts will be undertaken in 2018 and 2019 in advance of the main contract. In addition, land purchase will proceed.
That should give the Senator the type of timetable we are thinking about, barring any upsets which we do not anticipate now that An Bord Pleanála has gone through the process.
I thank the Minister. It has been helpful as it gives a focus and an indicative timeline. The local council and people living there are keen to know and at least there is no ambiguity now. We have an indicative timeline for it and in respect of the role of Kildare County Council. When one talks to a council it can say one thing while one hears another from the Minister. We at least have the basis for something now and I want to thank the Minister for dealing with that.