£1bn needed to fix Northern Ireland's crumbling roads
The cost of repairing Northern Ireland's crumbling roads has reached a staggering £1bn.
That is the total estimate of bringing the network up to the "requisite standard," MLAs have been told.
And yet the Department of Infrastructure - now responsible for roads surfaces - could be facing further spending cuts.
The department's Permanent Secretary, Peter May, said deterioration of roads in the province now stretches back a number of years.
Asked by the department scrutiny committee chairman William Humphrey about a £1bn "backlog", Mr May said: "The figure comes from an estimate of the total it would take to invest in our current road infrastructure to bring it all up to the requisite standard.
"In recent years and certainly in the last couple of years, we have not been able to invest as much as we would ideally wish to maintain the road network to that standard, and that figure, therefore, has continued to grow."
But he went on: "To be clear, it is not that the department could spend £1bn in a year or even in a couple of years to overcome that; it is a long-term issue rather than something that necessarily impacts in the short term."
Dr Andrew Murray, deputy secretary of the Department's roads section, added: "There will never be a road network that is all in pristine condition. The backlog is something that we calculate regularly... the backlog has been increasing and is now at around £1bn. That is what it would cost to fix everything on the network."
DUP MLA Mr Humphrey said he had heard from civil servants that the new department is facing a 9% cut to its budget.
But the committee heard that no details of the current 'monitoring round' - the share-out of unspent cash across all departments - are available yet.
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard said: "Discussions are ongoing with the Finance Minister, and consideration of all priorities is still taking place."
Alliance's Kellie Armstrong said the practice on road repairs of "patching over patches" meant that "day in, day out, constituents claim damage to cars because of the number of problems they are having".
"It is getting worse," she said. "Constituents have been complaining about patches over patches over patches or, where there are white lines or blue lines drawn on the road, so much time goes past that they wear away."
And the Strangford MLA urged the minister to ensure that rural areas get their fair share of any cash for roads repairs.
Sinn Fein minister Hazzard said he wanted to examine an "infrastructure deficit", not just west of the Bann but in rural areas such as south Down, Strangford and south Armagh.
"To a large extent, there has been a deficit in investment in infrastructure in the west for the best part of 50 or 60 years. I intend to do what I can to address that in the next five years."