It costs about €7,000 a night to grit the roads of Westmeath, members of the county council were informed at their monthly meeting. As they prepared for winter weather, councillors had demands for more roads to be gritted, for more footpaths to be salted and for salt to be provided to schools and communities for their use.
The members heard that 522km of priority roads including 78km of motorway and dual carriageways, 105km of secondary roads, 291km of regional roads and 48km of local roads are gritted. The average annual cost over a season is between €450,000 and €500,000.
At present, 95% of regional roads are gritted, but members felt that this should be increased to 100%. Cllr Tom Farrell, in particular, was concerned about the road N391 and urged that it be included.
Cllr Ken Glynn wanted the estates from Saunderson’s Bridge, Mullingar, through Chestnut Drive, Chestnut Grove, Oakcrest, and Newtown Lawns included in the gritting programme. Cllr Paul Hogan was concerned about Auburn Heights and Cartron Drive in Athlone, where access could be difficult due to a steep slope.
The acting chairman, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, asked that the council provide salt containers that could be accessed by community groups in times of extreme weather, while Cllr Brian Crum asked that salt be delivered to schools. Cllr Mick Dollard called for salt boxes to be made available to the residents in the Beech Grove, Delvin Road area of Mullingar.
Driver lives in area
Cllr Frank McDermott was concerned about the road from Garthlandstown Cross to Iralco.
He said that the grit truck driver lived in the area and could do it on his way home as it was a short distance and would not require much salt.
Cllr Liam McDaniels supported this call saying that maybe there was room for the fleet to do a bit more in general.
Director of services, Barry Kehoe, warned that you can only stretch a thing so far and then it breaks. He said that last year they were under huge pressure and explained that when there is severe frost, the spread rate has to be increased and the trucks have to reload to get a road done.
“We are dealing with weather, mechanical plant and human drivers and there has to come a point where they can’t do any more,” Mr Kehoe warned. He said that the district engineers would deal with the specific needs of their areas and they would know what areas needed to be gritted.
As regards providing salt containers to schools and communities, Mr Kehoe said that could be done, but a protocol would have to be developed whereby the recipients would be responsible for providing the salt. “We can’t be delivering salt on an on-going basis, like a postman,” he said.
The council is to examine the cost of including all regional roads in its gritting programme. At the moment it has six gritters, snow ploughs and loading shovels. It has a team of drivers available 24/7 if needed. The two salt depots are full to capacity – 1,200 tonnes in Mullingar and 300 tonnes in Athlone. On an average night they use 70 tonnes of salt.
Last year, they were out 87 nights and used 5,000 tonnes of salt, twice what they used the previous year. The councillors were assured that the council is ready for extreme weather conditions. There are weather stations along the network and the council is in contact with Met Éireann. It has identified priority routes, has enough salt in stock, and staff on stand-by.
The district engineers can access salt as required. Strategic footpaths will be treated and in the event of extreme weather, community involvement will be needed, especially in prolonged conditions as the council cannot get to every area.
They warn drivers not to travel unless necessary, to drive carefully and never to assume the road has been treated.
They also have a plan in place to deal with flooding and are monitoring the Shannon River levels on a regular and on-going basis.