A GALWAY County Councillor has called for the local authority to request a full safety audit on the M18 between Gort and Ennis after 10 car accidents on the route in just one day last December.
While the crashes on December 19 resulted in the closure of that part of the motorway, Councillor Gerry Finnerty believes there is an ongoing problem on the route.
“It is consistent that there are a lot of tips happening along it. If you drive along it any day you see evidence of that. It is widespread that there are accidents on it. I am listening to the general public’s concerns as well and you nearly feel that people are afraid to use it,” he said.
Councillor Finnerty proposed at a recent meeting of the council that it contact the NRA and ask them for a full safety audit because “during a recent spell of poor weather, a number of serious accidents occurred on the same stretch”. He said evidence of these were visible “all along the route, with many collisions occurring with the crash barrier again”.
Councillor Finnerty stated he had previously raised the question of “why these barriers were left with such a solid steel facing oncoming traffic and what concern has the NRA on safety in this stretch, as they have put in mobile flashing amber lights for traffic to slow down”.
In a written response, Michael Owens, county secretary, said the road was being treated to prevent dangerous conditions during the spell referred to by Councillor Finnerty but that “no advance treatment can protect against the hazard that develops as a result of intense hail showers”.
“Colas Roadbridge JV (CRJV) is the maintenance contractor appointed by the NRA under the Motorway Maintenance and Renewals Contract (MMaRC) for Network B, which includes Winter Service provisions on the N/M18, in County Galway and County Clare and the N19 and the N85 in County Clare. For this part of their network, CRJV run their operations out of their depot on the Tulla Road, Ennis incorporating four treatment routes. Under the MMaRC contract, winter service provision commenced on October 1, 2013 and runs until May 15, 2014,” he stated.
“During December 2013, CRJV provided winter treatments from the Ennis depot on 10 separate days/nights over the course of the month (December 4, 16, 19, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28 and 31),” Mr Owens added.
“With regards to particular issues experienced on December 19 when An Garda Síochána made the decision to close the M18 between Junction 14 Barefield and Junction 16 Gort approximately at 11am and again at 4pm, the information and records held for that period show that the M18 received three precautionary treatments at midnight, 6.30am and 10.30am. Even though these treatments were carried out, the hail showers experienced on the day were of such severity and intensity that at one point just after 2pm, they caused the road surface temperature to drop by approximately 5 degrees Celsius in a 30-minute period. Notwithstanding this, the precautionary salting treatments that were carried out prevented the road surface from freezing at any time throughout December 19 and a further treatment was carried out at 5pm,” he outlined.
“There is no advance treatment that can protect against the hazard that develops as a result of intense hail showers and it is incumbent on drivers to adjust their behaviour to take driving conditions into account,” Mr Owens advised.
“Variable message signs were erected by NRA’s motorway maintenance contractor at the request of the gardaí, as drivers were not driving with due regard for the road conditions. The continued use of these signs will be discussed between the gardaí and NRA,” he continued.
Mr Owens gave details of the type of safety barriers used on the motorway and said they were the appropriate design for a road with a speed limit of 100kph or greater.
However, Councillor Finnerty is not happy with the response and believes a full safety audit must be carried out on the road and the barriers changed.
“I am totally against them. What you are seeing is a dead end chunk of steel facing you; it is a potential death trap. I would like to see the barriers sunk into the ground as the ends of them are so if you struck it, you would glance off it. They are supposed to bend back if you hit them but they look very solid,” he said.
“I want to see a full safety audit take place. That they have put flashing lights on a section of that road now warning you that it is dangerous in wet weather is an admission by themselves that there is an issue on that road,” he added.
However, the NRA disagrees. Speaking to The Clare Champion in December after the road closure a spokesperson for the NRA said the “weather event was extreme incorporating hail, then rain and high winds. It created a dangerous circumstance no matter where you were. Similar events were happening all around the country. Unfortunately, accidents did occur on the north part of the M18. With any motorway, one simple accident can turn into multiple accidents.
“Any time there is torrential rainfall on roads or any kind of dangerous driving conditions, we would ask people to slow down. With wind and showers, visibility becomes a problem, then there was dropping temperatures and hail as well. There were dangerous and difficult driving conditions around the country over that 24 to 48-hour period,” he added.
According to Councillor Finnerty, “There are stretches of motorways all around the country. We don’t hear of others being closed down. It is standing out a mile that there is an issue with it.”