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Roads Service Northern Division prepares for winter weather

Northern Divisional Roads Manager Deidre Mackle today warned motorists to take extra care while driving, as winter approaches.
Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Divisional Roads Manager was speaking at the start of Roads Service’s annual Winter Service operation. Deidre Mackle said: “Every night from now until the middle of next April, we will have over 90 people on standby to salt main roads, helping drivers to cope with wintry conditions. Salt barns and Stockpiles have been filled to maximum capacity in Northern Division which encompasses the council areas of Antrim, Ballymena, Larne, Ballymoney, Moyle, Coleraine, Limavady and Londonderry.

“When ice or snow is forecast, we have over 40 gritters available which can salt the main network in just over three hours, a massive logistical exercise that costs around £22,000 each time it takes place.

“It is extremely difficult to predict what nature will throw at us. We must always be ready for exceptional weather conditions like last year when we experienced the worst winter in over 100 years. Nowhere escaped the impact of the adverse weather last year and gritting operations continued around the clock to keep main routes open.”

While understanding the concerns of those who use the more lightly trafficked roads that are not included in the salted network, the Divisional Roads Manager explained that it is simply not practical to salt all roads.

“Roads Service’s limited resources must remain targeted on busier routes carrying most traffic. Last year it cost £10million to grit the main routes in Northern Ireland. It would cost more than £35million to grit all roads in Northern Ireland, in a similar winter. In addition, if we were to grit the pavements during the winter season, it would cost more than £600,000 for each treatment.”

Deidre Mackle also said she was aware of the difficulties experienced by the public on town centre footpaths last year and she hoped partnership agreements with Councils would ease these difficulties. She said: “Several weeks ago, the Minister Danny Kennedy announced that the Department for Regional Development had reached an agreement in principle with Northern Ireland Local Government (NILGA) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE). It is now hoped that this will lead to the roll out of local agreements with each council.

“For Councils availing of the agreements, The Department will make salt and grit available free of charge to Councils, supply manpower, where resources permit and provide an indemnity to Councils or groups working on their behalf.”

The Divisional Manager warned that even with the most careful and thorough planning, the use of special Met. Office forecasts and the latest ice prediction technology, Winter Service is really a battle against the elements and ice-free roads cannot be guaranteed. “Motorists have to play their part by taking extra care during wintry conditions. The best advice is in the Highway Code – drive with care even if roads have been salted, be prepared for road conditions changing over short distances and take care when overtaking gritters,” she said.

Roads Service engineers use the latest technology to help them make informed decisions about salting operations. This includes ice sensors linked to 22 weather stations across Northern Ireland and thermal mapping of all roads on the network. The Met Office uses information from these stations along with their own data to provide forecasts which are transmitted to engineers’ computers.

Roads Service also tries to ensure that motorists are kept fully up to date with road conditions at this time of year. Information on salting activities is relayed electronically to the media to ensure the latest news on road conditions is available to motorists.

Andrew Murray, Roads Service Director of Network Services said: “During periods of prolonged snow, all gritters will be fitted with snow ploughs and Roads Service will spread salt at up to three times the normal rate. But clearing snow is much more difficult than dealing with frost because of the large volume of frozen material.

“Roads Service’s Snow Contingency Plan means that efforts will be directed to clearing snow from motorways and the trunk roads, before moving to other main roads and the busiest urban link roads. The operation will continue until all roads are cleared, but this may take some time, even with all resources deployed. In very deep snow, Roads Service will use its nine snow blowers, the latest of which can shift 1,600 tonnes of snow an hour. Arrangements are also in place to enlist the help of contractors, including farmers, to clear blocked roads.”

Roads Service advises the public to prepare for the annual winter battle with the elements. De-icing salt is available in DIY centres and from trade suppliers, for use on private property. Commercial property owners in particular, should now consider their own arrangements to stock salt, to avoid being caught unprepared. The Roads Service winter service leaflet is available by calling 028 9054 0540 or from the website at: http://www.drdni.gov.uk/index/roadsni-3.htm

To ensure the public is provided with up to date roads related news, a new Winter Service and Emergency News page has been added to the Roads Service Traffic Watch web site. This page has been designed to supplement the Traffic News page: http://www.trafficwatchni.com and will be updated 24 hours a day, as necessary, with Winter Service or Emergency News details.

Notes to editors:

  1. DRD Roads Service salts main roads carrying more than 1,500 vehicles per day, as well as other busy routes with special difficulties (e.g. steep hills) that carry over 1,000 vehicles per day. In applying the criteria, service buses and school buses get a high weighting – a 40 seater bus is counted as 40 vehicles. Small settlements of more than 100 dwellings each have a salted link via the shortest route to the salted network, and consideration is given to placing grit piles or salt boxes at hills, bends or junctions on roads that are not gritted.
  2. Further advice on preparing for winter can be located at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/winter
  3. Media queries to Department for Regional Development Press Office, Tel 028 9054 0817. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.