We are working flat-out to ensure network stays open
The Roads Service is focused on keeping main routes clear, leaving pavement gritting to local councils, says Danny Kennedy
Over the past six days, Roads Service has been working in horrendous snow and gale-force conditions around the clock to keep main roads open.
They continue to work on secondary and more rural routes, where many people have been housebound for days – particularly in counties Down and Antrim, where there are snowdrifts of up to 14ft deep.
Roads Service must focus its resources, as agreed by the Assembly, on ensuring the main road network, carrying 80% of traffic, is salted.
The winter service is a massive logistical undertaking, that involves staff working night and day, salting around 7,000km of main roads in just over three hours, across Northern Ireland, at a cost of approximately £80,000 per night. Many routes are salted up to three times in one night, at a cost of £250,000.
Currently, we are working at twice our normal capacity in extreme winter conditions and are using all our resources and the added resources of Rivers Agency, snow-clearance contractors, dozens of external contractors, quarry equipment, independent digger drivers and volunteers.
Even with this mammoth resource, it has still taken six days to clear affected routes. Unfortunately, many routes that have already been cleared need to be redone daily as snow drifts and fresh snow falls.
Roads need to be cleared as quickly as possible to help the emergency services get through, power lines to be restored, auto repair companies to assist stranded motorists, bringing humanitarian aid to isolated and vulnerable communities, as well as attempting to keep traffic moving to keep the economy afloat.
Roads Service does respond to requests to clear roads for emergencies and funerals. Unfortunately, while we sympathise with all the people, businesses and farmers experiencing the current harsh conditions, it would take even more resources and staff to clear all the private roads and footpaths.
Our current priorities must be to clear the snow on as many main and secondary roads as we can to help as many people as possible to travel on routes.
We have arrangements with 23 councils to grit footpaths and will make salt and grit available free of charge to any councils which can help clear the ice and snow from town and city centre pavements.
Furthermore, councils, or groups of traders acting on their behalf, will also have the same indemnity benefits as Roads Service.
I have been on the ground with crews around Northern Ireland to see at first-hand the valuable work being carried out by Roads Service staff to keep our road network open.
Crews in more than 130 gritters and snow-clearing vehicles, along with dozens of contractors in heavy plant vehicles, have been working 24/7 in some of the most severe weather conditions seen here for many years.
These operations have been supported by an extra 130 items of large plant, including tracked excavators and quarry shovels, provided by private contractors and Rivers Agency.
I commend all the emergency crews, emergency services, utilities providers and contractors who have been working constantly since we saw the amber weather warning issued last Thursday. Our main efforts are focused on serving people and we are mindful of those living in isolated rural areas.
This is an ongoing situation and, unfortunately, there may be more to come when the thaw starts and the possible risk of flooding.
I appreciate people's patience and urge them to continue to listen to the weather forecasts and be prepared for the changing conditions.
In this challenging time, I commend all those who have come together and shown resilience and tremendous spirit to help the community.
I encourage people to continue to be good neighbours and look after the vulnerable living around them.
Our Executive departments and agencies are working together to serve the entire community during this difficult time.