Seanad debates

Wednesday, 22 November 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Road Projects

10:30 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, to the House. It is great to have the line Minister in the Chamber for Commencement matters. I thank him for being here.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. The N2 Ardee to Castleblayney road has become infamous for its high collision rate. Sections of the road have been classified as having twice the expected collision rate and the death toll, unfortunately, is alarming. There have been 17 fatal collisions in the last ten years and 24 within the past 18 years. This has left so many families and lives broken, so much grief and a lifetime of heartache. As traffic volumes continue to grow, collision frequency and severity is also likely to increase. The Minister of State can, therefore, understand why the local community finds it inexplicable that work has stopped on plans to make this road safer for everyone, not just the locals who use it but, indeed, all those who pass on this road on their way North or South as the case may be.

A recent European directive on road infrastructure safety management states that member states shall ensure that road sections with a ranking of high accident concentration, such as the N2, are targeted and given high-priority funding for remedial treatment. An upgrade of the N2 Castleblayney Road from Castleblayney to Ardee four-lane dual carriageway is needed. The length is approximately 32 km and it is proposed to have a cycle track and footpath there as well. As the Minister of State knows, dual carriageways are three times safer than single carriageways.

Apart from improving road safety, these measures would also enhance key North-South and regional connectivity, improve road safety, as I said earlier, and also provide certainty for journey times for cross-Border traffic. These particular improvement works are listed in the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and also 2021-2030 for progression through pre-appraisal and early planning.

The design process began on this road back in 2018 and the preferred route was published in February of 2021. Initial design maps have been published and land and property owner meetings have taken place with the local authority. There have been significant impacts on people's properties with up to seven people potentially losing their family homes. Many others had significant land taken and commercial buildings have also been taken. I have to say, however, that from feedback I have received from local authority representatives - the Minister of State met with Monaghan County Council and I thank him again for coming to that meeting - the co-operation from the local community has been second to none. I salute them for that.

Expenditure to date on this road has been somewhere in the region of approximately €5.5 million. The current phase has been going well; so far, so good. However, the €600,000 we received in 2023 was for works already completed. Therefore, a request was made through the Minister, Deputy Ryan's, Department for an additional €900,000 so that the planning process and design process could be completed. Unfortunately, that was not forthcoming this year and as a result, the consultants that were hired had to be stood down. So far, we are in limbo with regard to this particular road.

This comes at a time when roads deaths, rightly so, are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons with the numbers increasing. Surely, if we are serious about road safety, the fact that this road is not being progressed through planning is unforgivable. There is no other way of putting that. We are talking about a serious issue that, quite frankly, is a matter of life or death. If the Department is serious about cutting down on road deaths, this road has to be progressed as a matter of urgency. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this important matter in the House today. I acknowledge the very serious road safety concerns he raised and the fact that the fatality rate and collision rate has been seriously high and concerning on this road. Many lives have been lost. The Senator mentioned 24 deaths, which is shocking. Particularly as the population increases, as part of the national development plan, NDP, and national planning framework, having balanced regional development is important. Obviously, a core component of that will be to have improved infrastructure from a North-South perspective. Engineering and infrastructure is a key component of road safety.

To give context for what has happened this year, when funding arrangements have been put in place by the Department with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, under the Roads Act and in line with the national development plan, the planning, design, improvement and upgrading of individual national roads is progressed by TII in conjunction with local authorities. TII delivers the national roads programme in line with Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework and the national development plan.

The Government has earmarked €5.1 billion for capital spending on new national roads projects from 2021 to 2030 as part of the NDP. This funding will enable improved regional accessibility across the country. The funding will provide for the development of numerous national road projects, including the completion of projects that are already at construction stage as well as the development of others. As the greater portion of this funding becomes available in the second half of the decade, this means there has been a constraint on some funding for projects.A major priority in line with the Department's investment plan is to ensure quality and safety are part of the national road network. In the NDP for this season, an allocation of €2.9 billion is for the protection and renewal of existing roads over the ten-year period to 2030. Four projects on the N2 have been identified, as the Senator has said, in the NDP. These include the N2 from Clontibret to the Border, the N2 from Ardee to Castleblayney, the N2 Slane bypass and the N2 from Rath roundabout to Kilmoon Cross. I can provide the Senator with some further details on each of them. These projects are in line with the national planning framework, in particular the national strategic outcomes of enhanced regional accessibility and strengthening rural economies and communities.

The TII is working to progress these schemes to the planning, design and construction stages. Approximately €491 billion of Exchequer capital funds are being provided for national roads through the TII to local authorities in 2023. These allocations were announced by the Department of Transport in February of this year. Funding in 2023 for new projects on the N2 comprised €2.5 million for the N2 from Clontibret to the Border, which was contingent on a successful application for funding under the Connecting Europe Facility, CEF. It was awarded earlier this year. There was €600,000 for the N2 from Ardee to Castleblayney, €350,000 for the N2 Slane bypass and €750,000 for the N2 from Rath roundabout to Kilmoon Cross.

I am aware of the concerns in this regard, having engaged directly with Monaghan County Council, its officials and the local authority members there on the funding allocation for this year, which did not allow for sufficient progress, as the Senator has stated. That is a matter of fact. There is ongoing engagement between the Department of Transport and the TII about the funding allocations for next year. As the Senator has said, this road has a concerning road safety record and that has to be a core consideration as part of our overall funding paradigm. As I said, no decision has been made by the Government yet on what the funding allocations will be for next year. However, this road is in the national planning framework and the national development plan. It has an important North-South dimension as well. That is something I am also acutely aware of from the Senator’s representations.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. I acknowledge that he came to Monaghan County Council on this particular issue. I know he does not have direct responsibility for everything that goes on within this Department, but I ask him to bring the message back to someone who does - the Minister, Deputy Ryan - that funding is required in order to progress this road. We are talking about approximately €1 million to keep this project alive and moving forward. This is the least we can do for all those landowners and homeowners who are losing their homes. They have co-operated with the council by acceding their properties so that a road can progress. We owe it to them not to keep them in limbo. We also owe it to all those who have already lost their lives on this road, and the Minister of State mentioned that in his contribution. This is literally a matter of life or death and I do not over-egg it when I say that. I sincerely hope that the Government and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, find the necessary €1 million to give to the TII for the design work on this road to be completed so the investment to date will not be lost.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I will reflect on the feedback the Senator has given and the strong representations he has made. He has also been clear about his concerns relating to the high collision rate on the road. The high collision rate will not improve with increases in the population and the increased use of the road. It has an important North-South dimension.

Engineering and infrastructure are of paramount importance in improving our road safety. That is why particularly in the midlands, the west and the north of the country there are a number of strategic projects which, if constructed, will improve road safety for many people who use those roads every day. The Senator has referenced the shocking loss of life over the last number of years in Monaghan and the wider region, which is of serious concern to me. That is why a wider discussion is ongoing within the Government about investment into roads.

During our ministerial road safety committee meeting last week, there was a discussion of the importance of engineering as a facet of improving road safety. That cannot be ignored. There are other areas that will have to be further progressed. This was a difficult year on the roads. I refer to enforcement and education as well, but engineering is a core component. If ongoing progress is not in place where there are high collision rates and poor road safety records, that will have to be of consideration when decisions are made. I will reflect on the feedback the Senator has given, and his concerns with regard to road safety.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State. That is very important. I welcome Elle Lennox and Lucy Reeves to the Seanad. They are here doing work experience with me this week.