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Roads Service Northern Division prepares for winter weather

Divisional Roads Manager for Northern Division Jim Beattie, today warned motorists to take extra care while driving as the winter battle with the elements and cold weather moves nearer.

At the launch of this year’s Winter Service operation, Mr Beattie said that from now until the beginning of April, 86 personnel will be on standby every night to salt main roads across Northern Division. The Northern Division encompasses the Council areas of Derry, Limavady, Coleraine, Moyle, Ballymoney, Larne, Ballymena and Antrim.

Mr Beattie said: "Northern Division’s winter gritting service is a massive logistical undertaking that involves salting approximately 2,062 kilometres of roads, in just over three hours, at a cost of around £22,800 per night. However, despite the high quality of the salting operation, ice-free roads could not be guaranteed. Extra care is needed when driving during cold weather.

“It normally takes just over three hours to salt a route, so your journey could start or end on an untreated section of road. Also, salt does not act immediately; it needs vehicles to turn it into an effective solution and it can refreeze after spreading – particularly in showery conditions.

"I appeal to all motorists to heed the advice 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. The salting operation is vital to keep main road traffic moving in wintry conditions and is carried out in line with the procedures agreed by the Assembly. Around £1.7 million is set aside for this essential work. On average there are around 75 call outs each year and a massive 19,500 tonnes of salt is spread by Northern Division to help drivers cope with wintry conditions.

“However, even with the most careful and thorough planning and use of state-of-the-art technology, winter service is a battle against nature and in exceptional winter conditions there is bound to be some disruption."

Engineers use state of the art technology to assist with the operation including ice sensors linked to 21 weather stations across the North, installed in conjunction with the Met Office, and thermal mapping of all roads on the network. The Met Office uses information from the stations along with their own data to provide forecasts, which are transmitted to engineers’ computers.

Roads Service ensures that motorists are kept fully up to date with road conditions when ice or snow is forecast. Information on salting activities is relayed electronically to the broadcast media to ensure the latest news on road conditions is available to motorists. A winter service leaflet is also available to help inform the public about winter driving.

Mr Beattie said: “It is Roads Service’s policy to salt main through routes carrying more than 1,500 vehicles per day and other busy through routes carrying more than 1,000 vehicles per day, where there are difficult circumstances such as steep hills. In applying the criteria, buses get a high weighting. For example, a 40 seater bus is counted as 40 vehicles.

"Efforts are made to ensure that small settlements of more than 100 dwellings have a treated link to the salted network and consideration is given to placing grit piles or salt bins at hills, bends or junctions on roads that are not salted. In addition, the Minister for Regional Development has asked Roads Service to introduce improvements to the operational response around rural schools regularly affected by adverse weather conditions. These improvements will ensure better communications between Roads Service and schools which experience difficulties and will allow Roads Service to provide a more flexible and timely response as and when road conditions necessitate. The required changes to operational practice will be in place for the commencement of the winter season."

During long periods of heavy snowfall, maximum effort will be concentrated on the key traffic routes. Clearing snow from motorways and the trunk roads will be given priority before moving to other main roads and the busiest urban link roads. Once these main routes are open to traffic, Roads Service’s resources will be diverted to the less heavily trafficked roads, especially in urban areas, and will continue until all roads are cleared. In very deep snow, Northern Division will use its four snow blowers, the latest of which can shift 1,600 tonnes of snow per hour. Arrangements are also in place to enlist the help of contractors and farmers to clear blocked roads.

Mr Beattie said: “The salted network is around 7,000 km (4,300 miles) and covers 28% of the north’s roads. Roads Service’s resources are targeted on busier routes carrying most traffic and while I can understand the concerns of those who use the more lightly trafficked roads that are not included in the salted network, it is simply not practical to salt all road.''

The Roads Service winter service leaflet is available by calling 028 9054 0540 or from theRoads Service website.

Notes to editors

  1. All media queries to Emma Flynn Davies, Department for Regional Development Press Office, 028 9054 0372. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699715440 and your call will be returned.