The annual winter gritting schedule costs in the region of €450k to grit 504km of road, including 291km of regional roads (95%) and 30km of local roads. A total of 78km of motorway and dual carriageways are treated by the TII contractor, 105km of N4 and all national secondary roads.
Since 2008, there has been an extension in the length of road gritted, from 285km to 504km in 2016.
That’s according to senior engineer Michael Kelly, who gave a presentation at last week’s SPC meeting on Planning and Transportation.
Westmeath has seven truck-mounted gritters, 12 snow ploughs, and two loading shovels, said Mr Kelly. Rock and sea salt is used, and it takes 55 tonnes each time. The Mullingar salt barn has a capacity of 1,200 tonnes, while the Athlone outdoor concrete slab can hold 500 tonnes.
The duty engineer decides whether gritting goes ahead by interpreting data including Met Éireann forecasts and the Ice Net System, and incorporating it with data from around the county such as road surface temperature, air temperature, wind, and dew temperature.
According to Mr Kelly, salt gritting events increased from 34 in 2011 to 61 in 2012 and 67 in 2014. In the last four years, it decreased to 48.
There are seven gritting routes in total. Route 1: M6 between Athlone and Kilbeggan, and R390 Athlone to Ballymore; Route 2: N55 Athlone to Tang and N62 to Ballinahown; Route 3: motorways, looked after by the TII, plus R446 Kilbeggan to Kinnegad, N52 Tyrrellspass to Mullingar, and R156 and old N4; Route 4: N52 Clonmellon to Mullingar, R395 Castlepollard to Delvin, and N51 towards Athboy; Route 5: R395 Mullingar to Castlepollard, including Mullingar town; Route 6: N4 to Multyfarnham; Route 7: R390 Ballymore to Mullingar and R391 Moyvore to Mullingar.
Area director Barry Kehoe said the objective was that everyone living in Westmeath is close to a road that is treated.
“There’s a good spread of regional roads, and a fair few local roads covered, and most of the distributor roads between Mullingar and Athlone treated as well. It’s a comprehensive network,” said Mr Kehoe, who explained that the council was at its limit in terms of capacity.
“As Michael says, we have seven trucks, a limited number of drivers, and it costs us around €5,000 every time we treat these roads, and last year we were out 48 times. That can go up to 70 or 80 times. I remember in 2009/10 we ran out of salt – as they did nationally.
“If we get a really bad winter it obviously puts huge pressure on the whole system, and it uses up money that could otherwise be used on road maintenance, on potholes, on general care of the road network.”
Mr Kehoe said in times of severe weather, the council also try to keep the footpaths in the main towns free of snow and ice, and where a community want a specific area to be gritted, such as near a school, the district engineer should be contacted to assess the necessity for localised treatments. A salt bin will also be provided to communities who wish to do the work themselves.
Cllr Tom Farrell asked about the Glasson to Moate road, having raised it in recent years, while Cllr Emily Wallace enquired about the Killucan to Kinnegad area, and spoke of the high volume of traffic using that route on the daily commute, as well as Raharney east.
Cllr Brian Crum enquired if the Ballynacargy Road is gritted, and was informed that it was. He also pointed out that in his profession as a truck driver, he had witnessed gritting taking place while it was raining, with the result that when he started out the next morning, he couldn’t hold the truck on the road as the salt had been washed away.
Mr Kehoe that the Glasson to Moate Road, as well as the Killucan to Kinnegad route, could be looked at further to see if they could be “squeezed” in to the schedule.
“We don’t have surplus stock,” said Mr Kehoe, adding that he had concerns about the gritter going out during the rain, and said it can be difficult to predict, as it can rain in one half of the county, and freeze in the other.
“It’s about mobilising communities, getting friends and neighbours to check on people during extreme weather events, and if the emergency services need to be called then they need to be. We have a plan in place to deal with weather crisis on a priority basis,” said Mr Kehoe.