A FIVE-YEAR programme to address the condition of one of West Clare’s main arterial routes has been called for, amid ongoing concerns at changes to speed limits on the N68. Reductions at a number of points on the road from Kilrush to Ennis were introduced in 2019, meaning there are 11 different speed zones on the route. At the West Clare Municipal District meeting last week, these concerns prompted a Kilrush-based councillor to consider voting against the Schedule of Municipal District Works.
The programme was unveiled by Senior Engineer, John Leahy and described by Director of Services Leonard Cleary as “a very, very good result for West Clare”. There was a welcome, generally, for the fact that €34.5 million has been allocated for the county, but Councillor Ian Lynch said that the condition of the N68 from Kilrush to Ennis caused him to think twice before giving his backing to the schedule of works.
The Independent councillor thanked Mr Leahy and the district team for their work to-date and acknowledged that Covid-19 had made road maintenance “very difficult and very challenging”. “I do find it very difficult, however, to resolve my concerns over the N68,” he said. “I’m very disappointed with the lack of progress. Speed limit changes were made and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) still haven’t said what the rationale for those reductions is. What I want to see is works done to ensure that the speed limit on the route can go back up to 100kmph. It’s a huge issue from Lissycasey back and my colleagues Councillors Kelly and Keating have also been looking for progress. I want to see a five-year programme to rectify the issues on this route. It’s our only lifeline in terms of connectivity and the state of the road doesn’t really encourage people to come back to live in West Clare.”
Councillor Cillian Murphy said he was supportive of Councillor Lynch. “We have sought that report that TII used as the basis for the changes to the speed limit,” he noted. “We haven’t received that. We need that report so that we can agree 100% and seek the upgrades that are needed to see the speed limit restored.”
Mr Leahy said he would revert to TII to seek the report. “The consultants who advise TII should have that document,” he said. “We have a very good relationship with TII and their allocation of €5.3 million to Clare County Council is substantial.”
At the outset of the meeting, Mr Leahy noted that in addition to the TII funding, just over €25 million had been allocated to Clare by the Department of Transport. The senior engineer also noted that the total allocation of €34.5 million for 2021 marked the first time in 13 years that roads funding had returned to pre-crash levels. “We take 2008 as the baseline,” Mr Leahy said. “That’s the last year of the boom when we were allocated €31.1 million. We’ve been trying to catch up since then and it’s the first time in 13 years that we have succeeded. It’s very positive. There’s €2 million for Blake’s Corner, €4 million for land acquisition for the Killaloe Bypass and €28 million for the existing network. Out of that, West Clare is well looked after.”
The schedule of works outlines how €12.7 million will be spend on the existing road network in West Clare this year, an increase on the €10 million for 2020.
€5.5 million will be spent in the Local Electoral Areas (LEAs) of Ennistymon and Kilrush under the Restoration Improvement Grant (RIG); and another €1.6 million under the Restoration Maintenance Grant (RMG). Mr Leahy noted that of the 30 bridges to have works this year under the RIG, 14 are in the West Clare district. “We are trying to spend in areas where we will achieve the most impact,” Mr Leahy said. “We are also aiming to achieve a balance to across the district.”
Councillor Gabriel Keating welcomed the schedule of works and called for more action on the maintenance of coastal roads. “If we don’t look after then, they’ll disappear,” he said.
Councillor Shane Talty said that having 14 bridges in the district refurbished represented “great progress”. “They tend to be narrow and take the brunt of the heavy traffic,” he said. The Fianna Fáil member also flagged the fact that some roads which had maintenance done in 2018 and 2019 need works again. “What is the standard of the work and are we trying to stretch to make things go further?” he asked. He also thanked all of the officials, staff and roads operatives. “They’re always ready to listen and help the public,” he said.
Councillor Murphy agreed that “trojan work” was being done and asked that members receive maps to show the road numbers within the district.
Councillor Joe Killeen thanked everyone involved in the plan. “It’s great to see so many bridges being looked after, they’re part of our built heritage and some are up to 100 years old,” he said. He noted the allocation of €428,000 for street cleaning saying, “everyone ignores it until it stops” and thanked all those who do it.
Councillor PJ Kelly welcomed the work plan saying it showed “a very practical, common sense approach”. “We’d all like more money, naturally,” he said. “That’s a matter for government because people need roads if they’re to live in rural Ireland.”
Councillor Susan Crawford said she had been learning the road numbers gradually and welcomed the works, particularly those on Léim an tSagairt Bridge in particular.
Questions were raised about the impact of heavy traffic on the roads network, specifically in relation to wind farm works and timber haulage. Mr Leahy undertook to liaise with the Finance Section to see what funds were left from development charges paid. “Felling licences are seen by the municipal district and we can regulate them to some degree in terms of access and egress points onto the public road network,” he said.
Senior Executive Officer (SEO) John O’Malley said district representatives had met Coillte last month and outlined “serious concerns” in areas including Moyasta. “We are chasing other operators,” he said. “It is a concern and something we’re working on.”
In relation to Local Improvement Schemes (LIS) and Community Involvement Schemes (CIS), Mr Leahy noted that €140,000 was the total allocation this year for the county in respect of the latter. He noted the CIS backlog had been cleared and the hope is to have two schemes in West Clare this year. He also pointed out that the LIS funding now comes from the Department of Agriculture. “We had a supplementary list that didn’t get funding last year and hope to start those this year,” he said.
Cathaoirleach of the district, Councillor Joe Garrihy thanked Mr Leahy and all of the district officials and staff. “They are a credit in the way they do their job,” he said.