That Seanad Éireann welcomes the "Road Development Plan for the 1980s" prepared by the Minister for the Environment.
Before I go on to the motion it gives me great pleasure to welcome the Minister to the Seanad for the first time during this period. I am sure he has been here on other occasions but this is the first since his appointment as Minister of State. I wish him well and many, many years of success in his Department. I have no doubt he has the capabilities and the background in local authority administration to give us the right leadership in that Department, together with his Minister and the other Minister of State, Deputy Connolly.
Let me say at the very outset that this, I suppose, is a history-making motion. It is the first time, I believe, over a number of decades—I think the last one was in 1926 or 1927—when any Department or Minister prepared a programme on a ten-year basis. I think it was prepared on the previous occasion as a result of the 1916-1922 period to try to update bridges and roads damaged during that period. I think the Minister must be complimented for his foresight in making a plan available to the Government and to the nation that gives, first of all, projections of works to be carried out in that decade and the financial backing that is necessary to carry them out. That projection has been clearly spelt out in the plan and indeed I am grateful to have the opportunity of moving this unique and history-making motion in the Seanad today.
The growth rate of traffic over the last number of years no doubt was responsible for bringing such a plan before us here—the ever increasing number of heavy and articulated commercial trucks that have increased so much in number over the years plus the great number of motor cars and other traffic on our roads now that we did not see in the thirties and the forties. We also have the EEC haulage. Our roads are now used by European hauliers who have to carry heavy payloads and high tonnage so that it is necessary to update our roads and at least give our national primary network two-laned roads with hard shoulders in order to carry this traffic which we have seen travelling up and down the country over the last few years. Our roads were not constructed for the type of tonnage that they have to carry today. A great input of capital is necessary to maintain the existing roads. In my view the first priority is to maintain our existing standards at the highest levels. The projections in the plan for further development must be realised so that this type of traffic can move easily and speedily through our country as through any EEC member country.
I want to refer specifically to the by-passes. This is of great importance. They should come into operation right away because every provincial town today has the problems of trying to get articulated trucks through the narrow streets. It is necessary that this type of traffic be diverted as soon as possible because it is creating great chaos in those provincial towns and also for the truck operators. It is important for them to get to their destinations as fast as possible. When I speak of by-passes, I see in the plan that there are some towns where it is not indicated that there will be by-passes in the sketches proposed for this decade, the eighties. I suggest to the Minister that pedestrian crossings, overhead crossings, or vehicular tunnel crossings such as that in Maynooth would be used in towns where we are unable geographically to provide a suitable bypass otherwise. I suggest that recognition be given to pedestrian overhead passes and vehicular or underground passes to take the normal local vehicular traffic within the provincial towns where by-passes are not indicated in the plan.
People forget that as a result of road widening farmers along the route often have their farms split in two. I can envisage that the day is fast coming when livestock will no longer be safe travelling on foot on the roads and I would suggest that the Department officials look into the possibility of providing underground livestock passes from one part of a farm to another. This does not create a big problem apart from drainage; you can do it quite easily in the same way as you construct culverts.
There is the problem today where a farmer, his wife and his kids have to police their cows from their milking parlours across to their pastures because of the ever-increasing traffic. That is one point I would like the Minister to consider.
I am very conscious of the value of the non-skid surfaces. That is a matter of first concern. Many people have lost their lives on a slippery surface as a result of the wrong type or size of chips being used, often with too much tarmac mixture through the chips. I would like to see the elimination of these black surfaces. This would also give greater vision at night and a better background to lights. We have one of these black stretches leaving Limerick on to Shannon. It is a deadly surface because vision there is almost nil. That should be eliminated. The "black spot" signs are only put up by the county council for one purpose—to safeguard them against damages and insurance: it is an insurance regulation to put up a "black spot" sign where many accidents happen throughout the different counties. I should like to see these "black spot" signs removed immediately and the necessary work of realignment and surfacing taking place in that particular area so that these signs could be removed and further accidents would not take place. Putting up a "black spot" sign does not necessarily mean that you are going to keep people safe because it does not always result in reduced speed and for that reason you have deaths continuing to take place.
I would also like to see proper definition of crossings, whether by roundabouts or white lines. Tourists or people from Europe and the States find no indication as to who should stop. I would like to see more definition on major crossings whether it be a roundabout or whatever other means. This is very important, as is sign posting. It is all right for people who know the country well and can get around, but for our visitors the sign-posting programme should be accelerated as fast as possible.
Lay-bys properly constructed on main roads are a necessity for the heavy articulated trucks we have today. Only out at Enfield do I see a lay-by with proper catering facilities provided—and, indeed, it took an Englishman to find out that there was a living to be made by setting up a catering unit at a properly defined lay-by. Anybody who passes along that route to Enfield will identify what I am talking about. It is a patch lay-by where the heavy vehicular traffic can pull in at times when they may not be able to pull in at hotels or restaurants in towns. These lay-bys should be provided and there should be some incentive for the provision of catering facilities.
I welcome especially the introduction of the national primary route from Dublin to Kinnegad. That takes most of the western, midland, north western Galway traffic to the west. You can leave the west and be held up for an hour-and-a-half coming from Kinnegad into the centre of the city here in Dublin. I am glad that is outlined in the national primary plan as a dual-carriageway. I welcome also the proposed routes from Naas to Portlaoise, Limerick to Ennis, Collooney to Sligo, Mallow to Cork, and various other routes. I am delighted that they are defined in the plan here for the eighties and I would like the development to be tackled right away.
From the tourist point of view the hedges along our main roads, tourist roads and country roads are a disgrace, choked with briars and all types of weeds, and I would welcome an arrangement whereby, by agreement with the farming community, by a grant from the Department of the Environment or, failing either, a compulsory order would be made by the Minister to ensure that no hedge reaches more than four feet high along our main and national primary, secondary or regional roads. We are lacking in that respect and much good work could be done in ventilating our roads by the removal of these hedges. This would give better visibility for the lovely countryside that we have here in Ireland, especially from the tourist point of view. Bridges are hard to negotiate with these large vehicles and I would hope that any of the old sores we have on our roads, bridges that have been there since the thirties and which are now outdated, would be immediately dealt with when we are tackling this problem in the programme outlined here.
I suppose it would not be right for me as a Mayoman to let this occasion pass without mentioning first of all the problem we have down in Mayo. The main urgency is the acquisition of land, the realignment and improvement of our national routes. Indeed, if you look at the road from Ballinlough border at Roscommon into Mayo you will see that the Department officials at one time decided that the Mayo people could accept a lower standard of road for their national primary and secondary than in every other county. I still maintain that the roads in Mayo are as important as any other roads in Ireland. We have the greatest road network in the whole of this country; we have one-eighth of the whole country's roads in national secondary. The reduction of the hard shoulder that was implemented from Ballinlough into Ballyhaunis was a reduction of standard from that of Roscommon, Sligo and Galway. I resent that very much. It was a decision by the Department officials on that occasion. While traffic volumes are not as high as in Dublin, Cork and various other large centres, there are large sections or unimproved national primary roads in Mayo still to be developed. For example, the road from the county boundary at Roscommon right through Charlestown, Swinford to Castlebar, is one of our national primary roads. I can say here to the Minister that we have acquired land, a four-mile stretch on that particular road, and we intend to pursue that acquisition policy in order that the 28 kilometres of that national primary road will be completed within the decade of this programme that is now before us. That road work is essential. The road is joined at Swinford by the Ballina road which is going into the very important town of Ballina. It is essential that work would start this year on the four miles of road for which we have land being acquired and plans designed. I hope that a substantial grant will be made available, something over £650,000 to £750,000 for that type of work on that national primary.
We have also the national primary road that runs from the Sligo border right through Charlestown, Knock and into Ballindine on the Galway side. I want to compliment the Minister for the heavy injection of capital he gave to us over the last two years for the provision of the road for the centenary year at Knock. He must be congratulated for bringing that about and enabling the access road on the national primary to Knock to be dealt with. We hope that the deficient portions of that road will also be brought up to national standards. I am glad to say that in the light of the expected grants for the 1980s we will be able to continue that great progress in design and acquisition in respect of our national primary and secondary roads. As I said earlier, we have one-eighth of the national secondary network of roads in Mayo and that area should be dealt with and the necessary capital brought into Mayo.
As regards our regional roads, by Ministerial decision a block grant was introduced some few years back. That gave authority to each local authority to allocate from national primary and secondary a portion of whatever amount of capital they had in the block grant to whatever schemes they wished. In Mayo we were unfortunate again because at that time, at the introduction of the block grant which was preceded by a 100 per cent grant from the Department for the taking over of sand roads for tarring, we had something around 1,500 miles of non-tarred roads in our county and we had to subsidise work to the extent of 75 per cent out of rates in order to bring up our black topping to its present state with roughly 70 per cent of sand roads tarred in the county. I think it was unconstitutional to ask the people of Mayo to do that but because our county road programme was so far behind—as is our national primary and national secondary now—we had to dip into the rates of the county to bring about the 70 per cent tarring programme on county roads that we have at the moment. We shall pursue that policy until we have at least 95 per cent of the roads in Mayo tarred.
In order to give effect to our regional road and to our county road programme an injection of about £1 million in 1980 is necessary. We got £618,000 last year but with inflation and the increased cost of tar products—the oil brings it all about—we would need that type of money in order to keep abreast of our road problem in Mayo.
Prior to that block grant we had a grant known as a tourist grant. That, of course, affects most of the coastal counties in this country and indeed some of the inland counties where they have waterways and various other tourist amenities. That was scrubbed in transit as a result of the introduction of the block grant and while it may not have been a major contribution—I think the contribution we got in the sixties was around £55,000 in Mayo and that was when we could get some work done for £55,000—it was of great help. That was knocked on the head and there is no such specific grant now while we have many, many counties throughout this island with great tourist potential. I believe that the tourist board should make some moneys available for this type of purpose, identify a type of road and classify roads as real tourist roads that do not come under national primary, or secondary and some of them, not under regional classification, but which could give great access to beaches and lakes, and to shooting and fishing facilities. A great portion of that money could be allotted to the tourist areas of the various counties.
I welcome the plan, for which we have waited a long time. I am delighted that the Minister has to Ministers of State on whom he can call in the implementation of this plan. I know that there is a financial projection in this development which will be accelerated or retarded according to the financial climatic conditions of every year in that decade. There is no reason to believe that it may not be pursued because of financial difficulties, but there is also no reason to believe that it will be completed if we get the necessary moneys.
Approaches for long-term loans should be made and, I am sure, will be made to the World Bank to put this programme into operation. If our internal financial commitments are to be curtailed we should go ahead with a major loan for this type of work because inflation will beat you every year you delay in implementing these proposals. Until we get our own oil offshore and our own tar at a much reduced price, it will be necessary to get a major loan from the World Bank for this necessary type of development. I have no doubt that with the energy of the three Ministers behind it it will be completed within the ten years.