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If a new meals on wheels service is provided for people living in rural isolated parts of West Clare, he said this will not happen if roads are not gritted during a cold snap.

Road gritting has been good, but could be better – councillors

GRITTING of the county’s roads during December’s sub-zero temperatures was commended by Council members who also called for more to be done to keep rural routes safe.

A joint motion, tabled by Councillors Cillian Murphy, Shane Talty, Ian Lynch, Joe Killeen, Joe Garrihy and Cathaoirleach Tony O’Brien highlighted “significant difficulties” in many rural communities. The motion also asked for a review of what constitutes a “strategic regional route” in the Council’s priority list in the winter gritting plan. 

Councillor Murphy commended the work of Council teams over the cold snap. “There are a number of routes across the country that that seem to provide the critical key transport corridors for communities,” the Loop Head man said.

“Just because they have lower population density, it does leave them at far more risk of isolation than many other communities. I had a call from the school in Kilkee where school and public transport were not operating because it was unsafe to do so. The school, and everything else was open, so instead of having one school bus coming in from a place to the school, there were 35 or 40 cars coming.”

The Fianna Fáil member added that if people were to be attracted to rural areas, services had to be provided. 

Councillor Talty also applauded the efforts of Council. “I would suggest that the road to the Cliffs of Moher would certainly constitute a strategic route,” he said.

“We have on the one hand, one arm of Clare County Council selling entrance tickets to people in Dublin on a morning to get on a coach and come down to the Cliffs of Moher. On the other hand, we had an oversight rather than a decision, that the route to the Cliffs of Moher and on to Doolin wasn’t part of the initial routes to be to be gritted. That caused consternation the first weekend, but I want to thank the crew in the machinery yard who got trucks out there.”

Councillor Lynch also praised recent efforts to treat rural roads and welcomed an official response which outlined that gritting arrangements are under regular review. “I thought the response was absolutely phenomenal,” he said. 

Councillor Killeen said it was important to appreciate that Council crews were “risking their lives” when out treating frozen roads. He thanked Senior Engineer John Leahy and his staff. 

Councillor Garrihy said he too was very appreciative of the Council’s work and welcomed the fact that the definition of a strategic route is to be reviewed. 

Councillor Michael Begley suggested the gritting works would focus on “black spots”. “We had just one black spot in our area and I think that black spots rather than strategic routes would be worth writing into the gritting agenda,” he said. 

Councillor Johnny Flynn said some people had been trapped at home because of the ice. “I think the review will be worthwhile,” he said. “The last time we had something like this, it was the Beast from the East. I think a review will be very worthwhile.”

Councillor Gerry Flynn said: “There was a hell of a lot of roads that could have been treated if they had the capacity, or if they had the material. I think that’s what the review needs look at because there were some people locked in, unfortunately.”

Councillor Mary Howard said she too had received calls from people who were unable to leave their homes and called for salt to be left in strategic locations. 

Senior Executive Officer Carmel Greene said that there had been learnings from the cold snap. “We have a few ideas as to how we can spread the resources out a little bit more so that we can get the best for our buck,” she said.

Chief Executive Pat Dowling said: “We will always respond, we will always try and deal with routes in as comprehensive a manner as possible. To think that every footpath and every bit of tar on every road can be dealt with, to make it safe and possible is not a realistic expectation, particularly in the context of the severity of a winter and how long it might go on. You’ll always be trying to do as much as you possibly can. And just I think we need to be realistic as well.”

A written reply from John Leahy, Senior Engineer in Roads and Transportation said that the Winter Maintenance Plan is reviewed annually an a full strategic review completed every three years. 

Currently all of the National routes, Regional Roads with higher volumes of traffic (strategic regional roads) and some busy local primaries are treated,” the response stated. During the recent long cold snap in December, priority 3 routes were treated twice each day.

“Priority 3 covers all routes on the winter maintenance plan and includes both Priority 1 and Priority 2 routes. This comprises of 17% of the network in Clare which carries approximately 70% of the traffic volume in Clare. This is significant coverage and is above the national average. With this winter maintenance plan, Clare is operating at full capacity over its seven winter maintenance salting routes. 

The response said that a further review will take place in the coming months.

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