Granted we have had a sustained spell of unusually wintry weather which has had a detrimental impact on the integrity local road surfaces. However, this is not the primary reason why our secondary roads are failing so badly. As per usual our collective ability to conveniently ignore the very large ‘elephant in the room’ appears to be expert.
The chief reason why so many of our secondary roads are literally disintegrating in front of our eyes is the ever increasing structural loading and stress which is being placed on minor county roads from excessive private vehicle use. The Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr. Derry Canty summed up the situation extremely well when interviewed on RTE Radio 1 during the week when he said ‘these roads years ago were for donkey and cart or maybe for the one car coming up with a family…but what’s after happening over the years is that you have the oil trucks, you have delivery trucks, all coming up here to service these [houses]…now you have a car coming along they have to pull in left and right, they are not wide enough for them and so the surface and the edges of the roads are really been torn asunder and this is what’s happening to us ……how are we going to afford it?
Ireland has a network of over 92,000 kilometres of non-national roads which is three times the per-capita EU average and, as a consequence, already highly expensive and inefficient to maintain. This road network was never designed or constructed to accommodate such volumes of vehicular traffic. Over recent decades the structural integrity of this road network has been under sustained pressure from increased traffic movements arising form dispersed settlement and land-use patterns, particularly one-off rural housing. Each new car dependent one-off dwelling house generates multiple daily private vehicle trips (to travel to work, school, shops, services etc) together with an increased additional demand for construction traffic, heavy goods and service vehicles and thereby contributing further to capital maintenance costs.
In recent months there has been much debate about the negative impacts of bad and unsustainable planning practices (e.g. the recent flooding). Before now the long-term costs of ill-considered planning and land-use policies to society and our economy were poorly understood, rarely considered by policy makers and, unfortunately in many instances, even ignored for the sake of political and economic expediency.
Today these chickens are time and again coming home to roost. Can we any longer afford to ignore the very obvious reality of the embedded and highly-inefficient costs of bad planning and Ireland’s highly dispersed population? We have a policy choice to make – we can of-course choose to persist in mandating socially popular settlement patterns and continue to shoulder the burden of ever inflating capital investment and infrastructure maintenance costs. Alternatively, we can have a highly efficient resilient economy and maximise the investment of public monies in quality of life infrastructure such as first-class schools, hospitals, public transport, broadband, public parks etc. We cannot do both.
In 1976, the then An Foras Forbatha Teoranta produced a detailed report entitled ‘Urban Generated Housing in Urban Area’. This report, which was suppressed by the Government at the time and never published, clearly documents the disproportionate costs associated with dispersed settlement patterns. This cost is not borne by the individual householder but society as a whole. Since 1976, over 235,000 one-off rural houses (7,000 per annum) have been constructed in Ireland.
See the 1976 An Foras Forbartha Report here: Urban Generated Housing in Rural Areas – 1976