A damning audit published this morning has found decades of funding shortfalls have led to an overall deterioration of the local road network.
Comptroller and Auditor General, Kieran Donnelly, has reported that roads maintenance expenditure has lagged far short of what is required to prevent the serious degradation of key routes.
He warned the long-term deterioration of the network is increasing the risk of injuries to people and damage to vehicles.
Mr. Donnelly’s report on ‘Structural Maintenance of the Road Network’ noted that the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) estimated that, in recent years, annual funding has been, on average, £50m less than what has been needed to maintain the network in a steady and sustainable state.
This underfunding has increased the overall backlog of required maintenance funding to £1.2 billion.
The report also highlights how the Department relies heavily on late in year funding for structural maintenance, reducing its ability to plan this work properly and carry more of it out in periods of better weather.
The resulting uncertainty over workloads impacts negatively on private contractors.
Mr. Donnelly said: “It is clear from this report that short term, inadequate funding of road maintenance expenditure is causing the serious deterioration of a key public asset.
“The securing of a long term funding option needs to be a priority.
“One of the surprising findings within the report is the absence of a roads maintenance strategy to demonstrate long-term development and maintenance requirements of the network.
“I am also recommending some reconsideration of the way maintenance funding is allocated.
“While major roads such as motorways are in better condition than previously thought, minor roads, including much of the rural network, continue to deteriorate.”
In his report Mr. Donnelly notes the social and economic importance of the local road network in the North, particularly in rural areas, due to our overdependence on the car.
“Until very recently, major projects to encourage citizens to switch from cars to public transport in urban areas had limited successes,” he declared.
“The network therefore remains of significant economic and social importance and with an estimated value of £26 billion is NI’s most valuable capital asset. It comprises almost 26,000km of different types of public road, 10,000km of footways, 5,900 bridges, 283,000 streetlights and 34 Park and Ride/Share car parks,” he added.