Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

DfI accused of endangering lives with lack of investment in rural roads

Lives of road users in south Armagh are being put at risk due to a lack of investment in the maintenance, upgrade and repair of a number of roads in the area, local councillors have claimed.

At a special Council meeting on Monday last, Divisional Manager Simon Richardson presented councillors with the Interim Report from the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) Southern Roads Division.  Its content has caused anger among Slieve Gullion councillors who claim that, despite previous assurances, their requests for work to be carried out on a number of roads have been overlooked.

Expressing his disappointment, Sinn Fein councillor Terry Hearty says the omission of the stretch of Concession Road from Culloville to Ballinacarry Bridge is of particular regret considering its dangerous condition and the fact that it had been deemed “a priority”.

“This section of the Concession Road is nothing short of treacherous with two sections of the road that actually throw lorries onto the same side of the road as oncoming traffic.  Officials had assured us that this potentially lethal section of the road was a priority for them and yet it doesn’t even appear in the report,” Mr Hearty argued.

 “As a result Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon has requested an urgent meeting with officials on site so they can see for themselves just how urgently it needs upgraded and also to view the major works carried out by both Louth and Monaghan Councils along with the National Roads Authority (NRA).  Road Services are endangering lives with this treacherous section in between.”

SDLP councillor Pete Byrne says he and fellow councillor Kate Loughran had compiled “a comprehensive list” of roads posing “a significant risk to residents”, most of which were not included in the report, and he accused the DfI of “ignoring representations” made by his party on behalf of ratepayers.

“I was keen to highlight the need for traffic calming measures particularly around schools and churches…the most notable areas being the Roxborough Rd in Dorsey, St. Michael’s Primary School, Newtownhamilton, Chapel Road in Meigh and the main road through Mullaghbane,” Councillor Byrne advised.

 “I was assured that an investigation would take place into the possibility of placing additional signage at these specific locations. I also urged Mr. Richardson to consider a pilot programme around schools and churches to attempt to reduce speed in these areas.”

At the meeting, Councillor Hearty also raised concerns that many rural roads have been allowed to deteriorate to “atrocious conditions”, arguing that “penny pinching” on simple maintenance such as failing to clean road gullies is “extremely short sighted”.

“It will end up causing hundreds of thousands of pounds in the long run as silt builds up in the drainage pipes and the vast majority of them will have to be dug out and replaced,” he said.

“This is one of the greatest blunders that Road Service has made in rural areas and it’s all the more baffling considering they continue to do it despite the damage they are causing being pointed out to them numerous times.  Not only will it put a huge strain on the public purse when pipes have to be replaced, but blocked road gullies are now causing water to flow out onto roads. As we head into the winter months this means there is potential for a huge amount of ice on rural roads, which are not salted.  Every year it’s a battle to get these roads salted and every year it puts people’s lives at risk as they try to get to work or school.

“Maintaining the safety of our roads is not a luxury. It is a basic and essential service that the Department is obliged to provide. Lack of money is not an excuse for putting lives at risk,” Councillor Hearty added.

Meanwhile Councillor Byrne criticized the lack of funding invested in traffic calming measures, pointing out that despite more than 400 requests submitted to the Southern Division alone, current funding allows for just one or two to be implemented.

“Excuses around funding and policing will not wash if a child is knocked down and killed due to poor infrastructure,” Mr Byrne said.

“This is just another example of how our area continues to be disadvantaged for capital investment. Despite announcements of extra funding being made available, south Armagh did not benefit. The only assurances that were made in relation to roads was that a full Winter Service would be provided, similar to previous years. However, this does not fill the residents of south Armagh with optimism as the gritting service on our roads last year was appalling.  We simply cannot allow unelected civil servants to continue to oversee the further decline of our roads. We need a Minister in place to ensure the safety of road users,” he added.