27. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to fund the restoration of over 12,000 km of secondary roads deemed to be in severe structural distress by the National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 17769/18 asked on 24 Apr 2018)
Deputy Brendan Ryan: I am very interested in hearing the Minister’s plans to fund the restoration of over 12,000 km of secondary roads throughout the country deemed to be in severe structural distress by the NOAC. I raise this as a Deputy who represents Dublin Fingal, which, on the face of it, is close to Dublin but which has a massive network of primary and secondary roads, some of which are in atrocious condition and will not find their way into a works programme this year or possibly next year because of a lack of resources.
Deputy Shane Ross: The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a statutory function of each 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 Exchequer road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of projects to be funded from these moneys is a matter for each local authority.
In this context, I wish to clarify the position regarding the basis for the figures published in the NOAC performance reports mentioned in the Deputy’s question. My Department has been supporting the development of a road asset management system for regional and local roads over the past number of years. The Road Management Office, RMO, has been established as a shared service between 31 local authorities. The RMO and the Department have been working with local authorities to ensure that the MapRoad pavement management system includes a record of all pavement-related works and information on road surface types and road pavement condition.
The road pavement condition information generated by the MapRoad system actually forms the basis for NOAC performance reports. It is the case that the performance reports show the impact of the significant cuts in funding for roads during the recession. The reality is that until funding reaches a steady-state level and progress is made on addressing the backlog, there is likely to be a dis-improvement in the ratings reported by the NOAC.
The objective of the MapRoad pavement management system and the NOAC reports is to provide the data needed for evidence-based prioritisation and management of both annual work programmes and multi-annual programmes by each local authority in its capacity as the statutory road authority for its area to enable local authorities to use the resources available to them as effectively as possible.
As regards funding, the grant assistance provided by my Department has increased from €324 million in 2017 to €417 million this year. The capital plan also provides for the gradual build up in capital funding over the next number of years. The grant assistance provided by my Department does not, however, represent the total investment in regional and local roads. Exchequer grant funding is in addition to the own resources local authorities invest in their roads.
Deputy Brendan Ryan: The report from the NOAC indicates nothing short of a crisis when it comes to potholes. I know people will say - the Minister has said it - that potholes are a matter for councils and councillors. That is true to some extent. However, when the problem is so wide-spread on a national scale and councils are so starved of money that they cannot afford to fix these problems, it is most definitely a matter for the Minister. The fixing of the damage to our secondary roads is not merely an aesthetic choice. It is a health and safety imperative. We need to make our roads safer for our drivers to minimise accidents and reduce damage to vehicles. In the league table presented by the NOAC, it indicated that 4% of Fingal’s secondary roads were in need of restoration works. As the Minister knows, Fingal is the biggest local authority in Dublin with a large rural area and a large population base of very heavy users of secondary roads, probably more so than any other local authority in Dublin. We need a plan beyond what the Minister has given in his reply.
Deputy Shane Ross: I understand, as I do with regard to Deputy Munster, special pleading because I know the roads in Deputy Brendan Ryan’s area are in dire need of repair. The local road allocation has been made for this year and there were very large increases, particularly for restoration. I will provide some figures, which might indicate to the Deputy the importance the Government places on this and the generosity we have shown, although, obviously, it has not been anything like enough. I acknowledge the need is there but it cannot be met to the extent required by the Deputy in this case. In line with the financial position in the capital plan, there is a significant increase in capital funding for regional and local roads in 2018. The increase is allowing a 18% increase in the allocation for road strengthening works and 17% for road surfacing from a combination of current and capital funding. Under the 2018 allocation, there are restoration improvement grants of €195 million, €33 million for restoration maintenance, €15 million for restoration maintenance supplementary and €70.6 million for discretionary grants.
Deputy Brendan Ryan: Fingal County Council can only self-fund so much. Freak weather events have a disproportionate effect on damaged roads. Frost and ice permeate existing cracks and holes and make them bigger, deeper and even more dangerous. I see evidence of this as I drive around. We need a fund for these repairs and for a new priority to be placed on making these roads safe. We are talking about road safety here.
I ask that a fund be set up in order to allow for the remediation of secondary roads. These are not big infrastructure projects whereby Cabinet Ministers cut ribbons and walk down new motorways, over new bridges or new overpasses or through new tunnels, they are the roads that connect our citizens to their shops, schools, families and places of work. These are the roads on which tyres are being punctured and vehicle chassis are being damaged. They are dangerous roads that present lethal conditions for drivers, passengers and pedestrians. As part of this year’s budget, the Minister needs to set up an emergency fund for allocation to local authorities. As understand it - the Minister can confirm this - Fingal did not receive anything from the national fund.
Deputy Shane Ross: There are cries coming from every local authority on this issue. It is indicative that the plea for more funds came very soon after the large increase they got. Every local authority was told that it should make provisions for road maintenance and restoration or contingency items of this sort. They have been given notice of this. That is cold comfort to them because I know the local authorities feel the requirements on them are as great as those on the national Exchequer. We have told them quite simply that they should certainly send in their clean-up costs, which they are doing at the moment, to the relevant Department. While it is early in the year, as things stand no supplementary money will be going for damage. That does not bode very well for those who are anticipating inclement weather or storms coming in the next year. However, they should be aware now that the Exchequer has paid, as far as I know, up to its limit for these amounts.