Roads Service criticised as temperatures plummet

December 10, 2012

By Christine Keighery

Plummeting temperatures last week made for treacherous conditions on many rural roads with some local road users braving icy, unsalted roads on their journeys to work and school.

One concerned parent spoke to The Examiner about “risking life and limb” to bring her child to Glassdrummond Primary School last Wednesday morning.  She told us how she almost lost control of her car four times on the icy road from Ballsmills to her daughter’s primary school.   She also revealed that two SELB buses to the school were unable to run due to the dangerous conditions.

Echoing the sentiments of other parents who had endured a difficult and dangerous school run to Glassdrummond, the local mum called on Roads Service and the council to rectify the situation and include the main through roads to Glassdrummond Primary School and other rural schools in the district in their gritting schedule.  She criticised what she described as the “neglect” of such roads and highlighted the fact that the potential dangers of the untreated roads usually led to the absence of a large number of the 170 pupils attending the primary school.

Sinn Féin councillor Terry Hearty revealed that he has raised the on-going issue of the Glassdrummond Road with the Roads Service on numerous occasions over the last few years.

“The problem is that the road has many springs running under it so it means that the road is constantly wet. When the winter sets in and temperatures drop to freezing, the road is like a skating rink” said Mr Hearty,

“I was in contact with Glassdrummond Primary School and they informed me that 25 pupils were absent during the week because the road was so treacherous. School children’s education is very important and they can’t afford to take time off unnecessarily.

“I live on the Glassdrummond road and I travel on it every morning. On Wednesday morning the road was very slippery and dangerous. I would not ask any parent, or in fact anyone, to risk travelling on that road to leave their children to school, as they would be putting their lives and their children’s lives at risk.”

The Sinn Fein Councillor said he had contacted Roads Service as recently as last Tuesday on the matter, only to be informed that the road does not fit the gritting criteria due to the relatively low volume of traffic travelling on it.

“However, there are buses with children that travel on this road on their journey to school, and there is a huge area affected when the Ulster bus can’t go that way because of the potential danger” Mr Hearty argued,

“Creggan, Glassdrummond and Ballsmill are all affected in the winter. Parents are then left with the responsibility of risking the journey, or letting their child stay off, missing vital school days.

“I am calling on Roads Service to look at the Glassdrummond Road as a special case, as it is treacherous in the winter. Tragically a young man was killed travelling on the road on a frosty morning in 2007. Roads Service has to take some responsibility because with the high rate of springs in the area the road is often damp. This issue needs to be addressed by Roads Service to prevent any more serious accidents and to allow our children to attend school safely. “

A Roads Service spokesperson told The Examiner:

“Roads Service fully appreciate that any road can present safety risks in times of wintry weather, regardless of the volume of traffic using it, but it is simply not possible to provide a gritting service to all roads on the network.  Roads Service directs its resources to the trunk roads which carry 80 per cent of our traffic.”

The spokesperson explained the Roads Service policy of treating main through roads carrying more than 1500 vehicles per day and in exceptional circumstances, routes with difficult topography carrying more than 1000 vehicles per day.

“In applying the criteria, buses get a high weighting, so that a 40 seater bus is counted as 40 vehicles.  Furthermore, following a review of our winter Service response, it was agreed that additional measures would be introduced to minimise the impact on rural schools most frequently affected by periods of severe weather.

“Glassdrummond Primary School is one of 16 schools in the Newry and Mourne area that is included on a list of rural schools for enhanced communication and priority secondary salting.

“Roads Service has no statutory duty to salt public roads or footways.   However, to assist the safe movement of traffic in wintry conditions, we do set aside sufficient funding to salt the main traffic routes across Northern Ireland.  We hope that the public will appreciate that it is simply impossible to salt all the roads in Northern Ireland, given the many demands which are placed on our finite resources: many of which are safety related.  The most effective use of our limited resource is to salt the busiest roads and so this forms the basis of our current policy.”