WE have all seen the impact of severe ice and snow on Northern Ireland in recent years so it’s important for us all to be well prepared this winter.
The wintry weather makes travel difficult for everyone. As Roads Minister, my first priority is to keep the main roads open, as they carry 80 per cent of our traffic.
Every year Roads Service carry out the mammoth task of keeping main routes open through freezing conditions. Roads Service has been preparing for this winter, ensuring salt stocks have been ordered, grit piles are replenished, equipment checked and that adequate staffing arrangements are in place.
Living in a rural community, I understand and appreciate the concerns of those who don’t live on or near a main route during the winter period. Like many others, I regularly use the more lightly trafficked roads, not on the salted network. However, it is just not practical to salt all roads. Salting the main routes costs approximately £5 million each year. To cover 100 per cent of traffic volumes would cost considerably more, up to £20 million per annum.
Farmers and contractors will be brought in as necessary to help clear snow from local roads. Roads Service will also respond to individual requests in relation to funerals and special circumstances.
In addition, small settlements in rural areas, containing 100 dwellings or more, now have salted links to roads on the main salted network. Roads Service also provide at various locations 4,800 salt bins and almost 50,000 grit piles for the public to use on a “self-help” basis.
Whilst we cannot control our weather, we can all prepare for its impact. Households and businesses can get ready. Simple actions like buying salt from a DIY store, will help make safe an icy path. On the issue of clearing and gritting footpaths, Roads Service has working agreements with almost all councils on the issue of clearing and gritting footpaths.
Despite everyone’s best efforts there is no guarantee that roads will always be completely free of snow or ice. Weather forecasts are not always perfectly accurate and if it rains the salt may be washed away and ice may form. It is worth bearing in mind that it takes up to 3.5 hours to salt a route so your journey may start or end on an untreated section of a route. The best advice is provided by the Highway Code – drive with care even if roads have been salted, be prepared for road conditions changing over short distances and take care when overtaking gritters.
Finally, I would urge people to look out for neighbours who may need help and assistance. Particularly in rural communities, people need to look out for each other, especially those who are elderly or most vulnerable.
My simple message to you all is to drive carefully and be as prepared as you can be to keep safe this winter despite the weather.
Danny Kennedy, MLA, is Minister for Regional Development in Northern Ireland.