Belfast Telegraph

You’ll have to do better at clearing roads, DRD told

Action demanded after traffic skids to a halt in snow

By Victoria O'Hara

Roads Service must urgently review how it clears main routes affected by snow after thousands of motorists faced widespread disruption across Northern Ireland, Co Down MP Margaret Ritchie has said.

Almost 90 schools were forced to shut on Tuesday after principals decided heavy snow and blizzard conditions made it too dangerous for pupils to make the journey safely.

The night before, more than 300 staff and in excess of 130 gritters were salting the main roads to help drivers cope as inches of snow fell.

Despite this and “thorough planning” by the Department of Regional Development (DRD), the intensity of the snow led to road closures and long tailbacks on the M1 — with many drivers having to abandon their cars.

Mrs Ritchie, MP for South Down, said constituents travelling to Belfast expected delays but were unprepared for the severe conditions and lack of treated roads.

“Roads Service must immediately look into how this situation was allowed to happen, and to reoccur over the last few days,” she said.

“With some delays resulting in drivers confined to their vehicles for over five hours, unprepared in heavy snowfall, for what should have been a one-hour journey, this situation could have had serious repercussions.”

Mrs Ritchie said she will now be raising the issue with Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy.

Breakdowns on the motorway westbound at Stockman's Lane — and later a stranded lorry — also caused lane closures and left queues of traffic stretching back to Broadway.

Areas in Co Down and Co Antrim including Lisburn, Comber, Saintfield, Ballygowan, Hillsborough, Carryduff and the Castlereagh hills were also badly affected.

A DRD spokeswoman said it was a “difficult” night for motorists and Roads Service staff.

“All the main routes were continually gritted yesterday evening. However, the intensity of the snow combined with heavy and slow-moving traffic led to congestion in some areas,” she said.

Despite reports of abandoned vehicles receiving parking tickets, the DRD said they were “not aware” of any Penalty Charge Notices having been issued.

“Anyone issued with a Penalty Charge Notice has the right to appeal and all mitigating circumstances are taken into consideration,” the spokeswoman added.

Translink said a number of Metro services were affected and some routes diverted.

Some Ulsterbus services were also cancelled .

Meanwhile, MLA Alban Maginness has called for urgent action by the Roads Service to help residents of Glengormley who have been badly affected by the heavy snowfall.

Supplies of salt had run out in some areas which “made a bad situation worse”, he said.

For information log onto www.trafficwatchni.com

Factfile

Since January 17, 1,500 lorry loads of salt representing more than 12,000 tonnes has been used to grit the main road network. DRD set aside £5m for the entire winter period and each operation involves salting around 7,000km of main roads in just over three hours across the province. The process costs approximately £80k per night. It began in October and will run until April.

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