THE National Roads Authority (NRA) has parked plans to build nine of the 12 service stations that had been earmarked for Ireland’s motorways.
Department of Transport funding for the construction, maintenance and improvement of national roads has been cut by €325 million this year. And proposed service areas are among the projects which have been put on hold.
"There are three service areas under construction and scheduled to open by the end of 2010. The minister for transport has decided that, in view of the current economic difficulties, the authority should refrain from investing further Exchequer funds in service areas until the economic situation improves," said an NRA spokesman.
As a stop-gap measure, the NRA has decided to erect "informational (brown) signs" on dual carriageways where petrol facilities are located within a kilometre of a junction.
"This is being implemented for existing facilities and will be extended to new facilities if and when they are built," the NRA spokesperson stated.
In 2008, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey signed-off the necessary regulations giving effect to provisions in the Road Act 2007 to facilitate service areas along national routes.
It was intended, at that juncture, to provide 12 service stations on five inter-urban motorways by 2011.
The Automobile Association (AA) has been critical of the fact that Irish motorways do not have the frequency of service stops on motorways in comparison to other European countries or the US.
These were essential from a safety point of view, AA policy adviser Conor Faughnan said. "You can drive from Newry to Cork on a continuous motorway network and the only place you will find service areas is at Newlands Cross in Dublin.
"One of the major hazards on motorways is that drivers are prone to fatigue. Doing long miles on high-quality roads means that drivers are vulnerable to a whole new type of road accident."
The motorways were a magnificent addition to this country’s transport infrastructure, but sadly an integral part of the plan, service areas, were yet to be realised, Mr Faughnan said.
According to a spokesperson for the Department of Transport, the NRA’s proposals for a number of other service areas across the network are progressing through the planning process. "Their delivery, however, will be heavily dependent on the availability of funds and the prioritisation of road projects within a reduced capital budget.
"The NRA will assign a high priority to the delivery of these service areas and are particularly anxious to deliver one each to the Dublin/Limerick, Dublin/Cork and Dublin/Waterford routes.
"In the light of this, the minister recently asked the NRA to consider other options for providing the service areas that do not require Exchequer funding." the spokesperson said.
The NRA has provided a number of rest areas on national routes, such as the N6, M8 and N11. "While these rest areas are basic, they do allow off-road parking along the major inter-urban routes where drivers can take breaks without endangering road safety," said the spokesperson.