27/10/2011

Only Major Roads To Get Winter Clearances

NI motorists are being warned to take extra care on winter roads - and while pedestrians are being supported with more town and city pavements set to be cleared this year - minor roads will again not be treated at all.

The Stormont Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy was speaking as he announced the start of Roads Service's annual Winter Service operation.

The Ulster Unionist Minister said: "When ice or snow is forecast, we have 135 gritters available to salt the main network, which carries 80% of the traffic.

"Each treatment of grit takes just over three hours, which is a massive logistical exercise that costs over £70,000 each time it takes place," he said.

"It is extremely difficult to predict what nature will throw at us. We must always be ready for exceptional weather conditions like last year when we experienced the worst winter in over 100 years. "Nowhere escaped the impact of the adverse weather last year and gritting operations continued around the clock to keep main routes open," he said.

While understanding the concerns of those who use the more lightly trafficked roads that are not included in the salted network, the Minister explained that it is simply not practical to salt all road: "Roads Service's limited resources must remain targeted on busier routes carrying most traffic.

"Last year it cost £10m to grit the main routes. It would cost more than £35m to grit all roads in Northern Ireland, in a similar winter."

However, he admitted: "If we were to grit the pavements during the winter season, it would cost more than £600,000 for each treatment."

Footpaths

But, being aware of the difficulties experienced by the public on town centre footways last year he hoped partnership agreements with councils would ease these difficulties.

He said: "Several weeks ago I announced that my Department had reached an agreement, in principle, with Northern Ireland Local Government (NILGA) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE). I am hopeful this will lead to the roll out of local agreements with each council.

"For councils availing of the agreements, my Department will make salt and grit available free of charge to councils, supply manpower, where resources permit and provide an indemnity to councils or groups working on their behalf," he said.

He added: "Every night from now until the middle of April, we will have over 300 staff on standby to salt main roads, and helping drivers to cope with wintry conditions.

"Salt barns and stockpiles have been filled to maximum capacity with over 100,000 tonnes of salt. Roads Service will also provide approximately 4,200 salt bins and almost 40,000 grit piles on public roads."

But, the Minister warned that even with the most careful and thorough planning, the use of special Met. Office forecasts and the latest ice prediction technology, Winter Service is really a battle against the elements and ice-free roads cannot be guaranteed.

Danny Kennedy said: "Motorists have to play their part by taking extra care during wintry conditions.

"The best advice is in the Highway Code - drive with care even if roads have been salted, be prepared for road conditions changing over short distances and take care when overtaking gritters."

Roads Service engineers use the latest technology to help them make informed decisions about salting operations.

This includes ice sensors linked to 22 weather stations across Northern Ireland and thermal mapping of all roads on the network. The Met Office uses information from these stations along with their own data to provide forecasts that are transmitted to engineers' computers.

Andrew Murray, Roads Service Director of Network Services said: "During periods of prolonged snow, all gritters will be fitted with snow ploughs and Roads Service will spread salt at up to three times the normal rate. But clearing snow is much more difficult than dealing with frost because of the large volume of frozen material."

(BMcC/GK)

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