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Patching over cracks not enough... damaged routes must be tackled seriously

Wesley Johnston


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'Resurfacing is better and more cost-effective in the long term, but has a higher short-term cost and is more difficult to justify in a climate of low investment' (stock photo)

'Resurfacing is better and more cost-effective in the long term, but has a higher short-term cost and is more difficult to justify in a climate of low investment' (stock photo)

'Resurfacing is better and more cost-effective in the long term, but has a higher short-term cost and is more difficult to justify in a climate of low investment' (stock photo)

Anyone who owns a car knows that you can only scrimp on maintenance for so long - and sooner or later it comes back to bite you.

It is the same with our road network. Sooner or later the defects start to pile up - as revealed today by the Belfast Telegraph.

While it is right to upgrade our road network, it is also important to look after what we already have. And we have not been doing that.

Our existing road network is over 25,000km long and the Northern Ireland Audit Office calculates that it requires £143m per year just to maintain it in its current condition.

However, over the past five years we have been spending £92m per year. And so the backlog has been adding up year after year and now stands at over £1.2bn.

The Department for Infrastructure is given money to spend on roads, but it is restricted in how it does so - it cannot reallocate money given for building a new road, for example, to structural maintenance.

And so maintenance often ends up with the dregs of the budget each year.

DFI responds to this in two ways. Firstly, by focusing maintenance on the busiest roads and the most dangerous defects. The busiest roads tend to develop faults more frequently due to high traffic levels, but are usually repaired more frequently too.

This means that the surfaces of more lightly-trafficked roads can deteriorate considerably before being fixed.

Secondly, by patching potholes and cracks rather than carrying out wholesale resurfacing.

Resurfacing is better and more cost-effective in the long term, but has a higher short-term cost and is more difficult to justify in a climate of low investment.

Structural maintenance is an issue for the new Executive to look at seriously.

  • Wesley Johnston is a commentator on Northern Ireland's roads and motorways
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