Belfast Telegraph

Wesley Johnston: Crumbling network is evidence of years of underspending

More than £1bn is needed to upgrade Northern Ireland's road network to an acceptable standard, a report warns today
More than £1bn is needed to upgrade Northern Ireland's road network to an acceptable standard, a report warns today

By Wesley Johnston

Road maintenance is simultaneously the least prestigious and most important element of our road network.

While new roads are desirable, it is also essential to keep what we have in working order.

Today's report highlights that we need to spend £143m per year just to keep the existing road network in the same state, yet in the past few years we have spent only £92m. This means that a maintenance backlog is developing, which now stands at £1.2bn.

To put this in perspective, that is the same as the cost to upgrade the entire A5 from Derry to Aughnacloy to dual carriageway.

For politicians seeking to win votes, it is tempting to scrimp on maintenance to fund new roads.

But there is only so long that this can be done, and we are now reaping the consequences.

With limited funds the Department for Infrastructure has, understandably, focused efforts on resurfacing our motorways and A-class roads which carry the most traffic. However, this means that our rural road network - which constitutes over three-quarters of our 25,000 km of roads - is increasingly being neglected.

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It is primarily here that we are seeing more and more potholes as road surfaces age, crack and eventually crumble into potholes, leading to damaged vehicles and even crashes.

Most drivers have had the experience of having to avoid a pothole in the road, but unless politicians - or, in their absence, civil servants - focus a higher percentage of their funds onto road maintenance, it is only going to get worse.

Wesley Johnston is a commentator on Northern Ireland roads and motorways

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