The Minister in introducing this Bill has indicated that it provides for certain arrangements with regard to money spent over the past 3 years and further arrangements for money to be spent in the years immediately ahead. It is, therefore, an opportune time to consider and review our basic road policy and to consider whether the present policies of the Minister and his Department are the best policies to be pursued in the spending of this increased amount of money devoted towards the roads. If we look at the road position we find ourselves with approximately 10,000 miles of main roads, 40,000 miles of county roads, and about 20,000 miles of lanes not in public charge. As all members of local authorities know, there is a continual struggle as to the amounts which should be spent on the main roads and on the county roads. These main roads differ very much in quality, and, indeed, some of them are of no concern at all to the local authority. Many of them deal with traffic whose origin is outside the county and whose destination is also outside the county concerned. These are largely main arterial roads linking Dublin and the principal cities and towns, and also linking the larger towns together.
These form a special problem in themselves, and it is worth while for us to give the Minister the benefit of our views freely on the question of how the money should be apportioned between these arterial roads and the remaining main roads and the county roads, and the question also of what organisation is appropriate at the present time for the carrying out of works on these roads. Traditionally the Minister has divided the amount of his grant between counties on the basis of road mileage. This is not the only basis on which an allocation has been made, but by and large mileage is the basis. It is, perhaps, something which has grown up, because as the Minister and Senators know, we have a very large mileage in proportion to population and many of our counties are worse off than others in this respect.
The first point I would like to raise is that, perhaps, the time has come to make a change and to use the question of traffic as the chief single factor rather than mileage in the allocation of these grants. The second problem that must be faced squarely by the Minister is the question of arterial roads as such and their removal from the class of main roads. The third point is that when the Minister is able to spend an additional 10 per cent. on roads, and we have been spending over £10,000,000 per year, the time has come when some of this money would be well spent in the direction of testing and research. Money invested in this direction now would repay itself in very much greater value for work done in the years to come. I would, therefore, suggest that the Minister should review his policy under these three headings.
I would suggest that he should take a very long and searching look at the basis for the allocation of grants, and that we should consider roads as not merely so many miles of surfaced and so many miles of unsurfaced roads but for what they are—traffic arteries connecting one place with another. This should be the prime factor. After that local conditions and mileage are other factors. The Minister mentioned tourist grants and special local industries. Questions such as these have also to be taken into account, but these factors should be subsidiary to the main factor of traffic.
Emphasis is being placed on the great importance of productive investment, and if road investment is to be productive as well as the remainder of our capital investment it is in these forms that the Minister's grants should be given. There is no question whatever that in other countries in the investment criteria developed and used regarding road expenditure investment in arterial roads has first priority. It may be that some of these criteria are not appropriate to this country, but they do indicate that arterial roads are first priority and that even a modification of them to suit our circumstances would give us the same answer.
These are roads which are largely not the concern of the local authority, but are the concern of productive investment from the national point of view. I would ask the Minister if he would examine on its merits the question of treating these arterial roads as a national problem. I am not asking the Minister to consider complete nationalisation of all road works. This, I think, would be most retrograde. But I am asking him to consider that roads which are arterial and which serve that national function should be organised on a national basis.
We must remember when we look at these roads now that some of them are already becoming overcrowded with traffic, but many of the others do not appear to have the congestion which we see on roads in Britain or in other countries. The position is that we are just coming up behind. We have ten years or, perhaps, fifteen, and if we do not move with the times we will get the traffic chaos of the British roads. Indeed, if Britain had the 15 years to spare which we have now with regard to the problem she would be very glad of the opportunity and time to plan. I would urge the Minister to see that the problem is tackled and plans are made now so that we do not wait until the cars are already slowed down and queuing on the roads before the problem is tackled. I would urge the Minister to examine this on its merits. I can assure him that in any such examination he would have the wholehearted co-operation of the professional bodies concerned.
The Institution of Civil Engineers and Cumann na nInnealtóirí would be only too glad to help the Minister in any way in an examination of what they recognise, and what they hope the Minister and the public will come more and more to recognise, as a problem already urgent in our view, and one which should be tackled without delay. Such a move would enable this national problem to be tackled properly. But it would do something else also. It would leave the local authorities much freer than they are at the moment to deal with these roads which are largely their concern, the roads in which they have a vital interest. By removing from them these arterial roads which are not their concern, the local authorities would be freer to concentrate on the remaining main roads and on their county roads.
As to what this organisation should be, as to whether it should be organised as part of the Minister's own Department, or whether it should be organised as a joint authority between the counties, these are matters which can be gone into. I personally feel that, perhaps, some statutory body, suitably set up, might be the best solution. But as I am not asking the Minister to accept anything and merely to examine the question, I mention that only as a possible solution.
The further point I want to bring up concerns the question of the allocation of money for testing and research. We spend £10,000,000 a year on roads. In other countries—and on our roads, of course, at the moment we have to learn from them—automatically a certain percentage of money allocated for road works goes for testing and research. The position at the moment is that although a little is done in this country, not nearly enough is done. We depend largely on getting the results of work done abroad and then attempting in the field to apply them directly to our own local circumstances.
Something more is needed when we have expenditure at the level of £10,000,000 a year. We need some organisation, some systematic procedure, whereby there should be personnel, equipment and money for the testing of sites, the testing of soils, and such research on new problems as experimental roads. Years ago many of our county engineers laid stretches of experimenal roads. We have very little of this sort of thing today. There is not the money to spare and no man thinks he has sufficient reputation to spare to put in purely experimental roads, because neither the local authority nor the man himself is prepared to face the chance of failure. It would be much better if the Minister would allocate a certain amount of money from the Road Fund for the building of experimental roads.
We have many problems. We have several problems due to the soil types in the west. If money were allocated for roads that were specifically experimental roads, then these roads could be treated as such. Nobody is hurt if the experiment is a failure, and actually on work of this type we often learn more from failures than successes. It is in this way, I think, we have a real need.
The main problem of our secondary and county roads is not so much the question of how much we should spend on them, but the fact that we need to develop low-cost methods of building roads for light traffic. There is no sense in our adopting methods which have been developed elsewhere for high density traffic and applying them to our Irish county roads. The problem is what to do with the farm-to-market roads which carry light traffic. This problem has not been solved for Irish conditions. I do not think it would take too much money to solve it, given the proper organisation. The Minister should set some money aside for the provision of an information centre in which foreign literature could be studied and results made available. Many of our county surveyors have kept themselves marvellously well in touch with the huge volume of experimental work done in Britain and Europe. But this is something a man as busy as a county engineer should not have to do in his own time and largely at his own expense. This is something in which the Minister's Department could give a lead.
There is one other factor on the question of our road policy and the question of getting value for money spent on our roads that I want to bring to the Minister's attention. Due to the policy of the Department of Local Government in regard to temporary engineers, the efficiency of road work is being interfered with. The position is that because improvements on roads are the subject of a 100 per cent. grant they tend to be considered largely as not of direct concern to the county. Many councils are reluctant to assign permanent staff to work on them. The trouble then is that they must be staffed by temporary staff. Due to an order of the Minister's Department temporary staff cannot be held in any one position for longer than three years.
Because of this absolute bar, this completely unjust regulation, engineers will tend to move long before the three years are up because they will be afraid they will be caught at the end of the three years. The result is that most local authorities are well below their establishment in regard to temporary engineers. Indeed, the recruitment of temporary engineers is a matter of supreme difficulty. Already, because of the unsatisfactory conditions in their employment, the amount which has to be paid for the services of engineers has increased in recent years. If the Minister were to improve the actual conditions of employment here, he would soon find that overall there would be less to pay, and that he would have a temporary staff of higher morale which would give all of us better value on our roads. Not only is the three year rule in regard to temporary engineers a great piece of injustice, but I think it is also a great source of inefficiency.
There is one other point in which the regulations of the Department make it difficult for road work to be carried out efficiently, that is, from time to time the insistence that the work should be finished by 31st March in any one year. This may lead to accounting neatness, but to insist that a particular piece of road work must be finished by the end of March is very often to ask county engineers to have work finished during a time which is the very worst time for operations of this type. In major roadworks in winter compared with summer you can get a drop in efficiency of 25 per cent and sometimes very much higher. Nothing that the Minister does in regard to regulations of this type should further aggravate this situation.
While the increased allocation of money to roads is very welcome, I should like to say, speaking as an engineer, that in the expenditure of this money these points should be kept in mind. The roads should be treated largely as a means of carrying traffic, not as different lengths of service, and the problem of arterial roads—something like 1,500 miles of them out of the 10,000 miles of main roads—should be separated and given special treatment, and in all of this work an allocation of money for training courses abroad and for research would be money very well spent.
Up to a few years ago many of our engineers did training courses at the Road Research Laboratory in England. The numbers attending these courses have decreased greatly in recent years and I think that at a time like this the numbers should be increasing rather than decreasing. While I would welcome the expenditure of more money on roads, I would put before the Minister these considerations on how the money might be more efficiently spent.