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Editor's Viewpoint

Our highways can't be left to go to pot

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The NI Audit Office estimated that it takes £143m a year just to keep the network at its current level of repair - or disrepair, depending on where you live (stock photo)

The NI Audit Office estimated that it takes £143m a year just to keep the network at its current level of repair - or disrepair, depending on where you live (stock photo)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The NI Audit Office estimated that it takes £143m a year just to keep the network at its current level of repair - or disrepair, depending on where you live (stock photo)

Anyone who drives around Northern Ireland on a regular basis will not need telling about the appalling state of many roads.

In the year until April last, 50,000 complaints were made to the Department for Infrastructure, showing the level of dissatisfaction. And there is unlikely to be any quick fix to bring the 25,000km-long network up to acceptable standards across the board.

As ever, funding is a problem. The NI Audit Office estimated that it takes £143m a year just to keep the network at its current level of repair - or disrepair, depending on where you live.

However, only £92m has been spent in each of the last five years and there is now a backlog of more than £1.2bn - money which will be difficult to find given the current rows over funding between Stormont and the Treasury.

The net results are some appalling conditions: potholes so deep that one driver was thrown off the road by the impact of going into one; grass not only growing up the sides of the road but also the middle of it, and payouts to motorists for damage caused by the state of the road doubling in two years to £751,926.

This shows that the network is in places a danger to motorists and pedestrians, and that is unacceptable.

The department is caught in something of a catch-22. In order to make its funding stretch it concentrates on resurfacing the worst affected roads and merely carries out running repairs to others.

Resurfacing is obviously much more costly but is also much more effective, and perhaps it would be best to concentrate on doing that on a wider scale. The department should also be given greater leeway on how it spends its money. At present funds allocated for road building cannot be diverted to maintenance, no matter how pressing the need. That seems an unduly restrictive practice.

It may be wishful thinking to suggest that the department should also seriously consider running a rail link to Belfast International Airport, which would make it more accessible to travellers from both Londonderry and Belfast and also give arriving visitors a better impression of the province.

For infrastructure - especially road and rail networks - is an important consideration for potential inward investors.

Manufacturers need to be assured that they can move their products swiftly to market and that raw materials can be brought in equally quickly.

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