Three planning applications for service areas on the M1 and M/N4 are being held up as a result of delays by the Department of Transport, according to the National Roads Authority.
At a recent board meeting the NRA noted that the Department was required to approve regulations before planning could be sought. "Unfortunately this has not happened yet, notwithstanding its urgency, and we are delayed in submitting the M1/M4 service areas for planning approval," the board noted.
A spokesman for the NRA said that the planning applications were going through "parliamentary regulatory procedures" and that a response was expected "early in the new year".
Regulatory approval is required before the plans can be submitted to An Bord Pleanála.
The NRA has committed to having its first service areas operational by the end of 2009 and the spokesman said that, currently, it was still on course to meet this target.
Some 12 locations along the motorway network have been identified as suitable for service areas. The first will be sited on the M/N4 with two more along the M1. The Authority says it plans to have service areas on all the inter-urban motorways by 2010.
A Department of Transport spokeswoman said a piece of legislation was being drafted and work was progressing as fast as possible. "It is before the parliamentary council, but there is a lot of work there. However, as far as we are concerned the . . . service stops are on schedule. There are no delays."
Citing security and other concerns, the NRA recently changed its policy on rest areas and has decided against providing 11 such sites, which were to provide parking and toilet facilities.
Despite this decision, the NRA spokesman said that the number of service areas was not going to be increased.
The NRA recently awarded a contract to infrastructure consultants Halcrow Barry Ltd, to provide expert advice during the development of service areas.
Service areas will offer food for 16 hours a day and fuel and toilet facilities around the clock. They will also provide extensive parking for cars and HGVs and a Garda enforcement area.
Deciding on how best to provide motorway facilities has been a difficult process for the NRA. The initial NRA view, in 2004, was not to provide such areas along mainline carriageways for safety reasons.
However, this policy was changed, partly because the benefits of by-passing towns was being lost as commercial traffic left the main routes in search of fuel and food.
While the exact sites have yet to be determined, the NRA has said the service areas will be located along the carriageways, rather than at junctions, to prevent a build-up of development at junctions.
The locations chosen for service areas are: along the N11 near the Arklow bypass and on the proposed M9 north of Carlow and near Kilcullen.
For the M7, two service areas will be sited near Mountrath and between Nenagh and Roscea.
The M6 will also be served oneservice area near the M6 and N17 interchange and the second near Athlone.
Motorists on the M1 will be served by two service areas, one south of Dundalk and the other south of Ballbriggan.
And on the M8 drivers will also have a choice of one between Fermoy and Michelstown and the second near Cashel.
As a general rule the service areas will be around 50kms apart.
The Irish Times