DfI defends gritting schedule and points to finite budget after winter road chaos

The Department of Infrastructure has defended its gritting schedule after a week of traffic chaos in Derry that saw at least two dozen weather-related road accidents during the heaviest snowfall in years.

Yesterday, Spencer Road was closed after a car lost control on Barnewall Place – one of the steepest streets in the city – and crashed into a building. The incident was the latest in a series of road traffic collisions which police linked to the inclement weather.

Addressing the chaos, Foyle MLA Mark H. Durkan raised concerns about what he characterised as a shrinking winter gritting budget.

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“It is patently clear that budget pressures are severely limiting the department’s ability to respond to the demand for winter services. The potential consequences on road safety doesn’t bear thinking about,” said the SDLP MLA.

A police car blocks Spencer Road after a road accident on Thursday.

He continued: “It doesn’t get much starker than this, increased disruption and risk of danger on our roads this winter is the reality. We need an Executive in place to mitigate these risk.”

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Road closed due to accident

A Departmental spokesperson responded: “The Department recognises the difficulties experienced by road users during periods of adverse winter weather and allocated sufficient resource to deliver a winter service programme to mitigate this, as far as is reasonably possible.

"At times of ice and snow we deploy around 300 staff and a fleet of 130 gritters - working round the clock when needed - to salt the 107 routes that make up the 7,000km of the network on the salting schedule.”

The Department pointed out that under Executive policy its personnel salt only main roads that carry more than 1,500 vehicles per day.

In exceptional circumstances, roads carrying between 1,000 and 1,500 vehicles per day are also salted.

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"The application of this policy, means that 28 per cent of the total road network, which carries around 80 per cent of traffic is salted and makes best use of the budget, which this year is £7m,” said DfI.

The department pointed out that it is restricted in what it is able to do with a limited budget.

“There is no value for money option that would cover all roads, or indeed footpaths. As public servants we must spend our finite budget wisely and strike the right balance between this work and all the other things we must do, many of which also are focused on the safety of road users,” the spokesperson said.

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