MORE than 90 people will be on stand-by each night through to mid-April to salt main roads from Larne to Londonderry.
The aim of the DRD Roads Service Northern Division team is to help motorists cope with wintry conditions, but their boss has urged that ice-free roads can never be guaranteed, and she asked drivers to take extra care as winter approaches.
Speaking at the start of Roads Service’s annual winter service operation, divisional manager Deidre Mackle said: “Salt barns and stockpiles have been filled to maximum capacity in the Northern Division and every night from now until the middle of next April, we will have over 90 people on stand-by to salt main roads.
“When ice or snow is forecast, we have over 40 gritters available which can salt the main network in just over three hours - a massive logistical exercise that costs around £22,000 each time it takes place.”
Ms Mackle asked the public to accept: “It is extremely difficult to predict what nature will throw at us. We must always be ready for exceptional weather conditions like last year, when we experienced the worst winter in over 100 years. Nowhere escaped the impact of the adverse weather and gritting operations continued around the clock to keep main routes open.”
While understanding the concerns of those who use the more lightly trafficked roads that are not included in the salted network, the Divisional Roads Manager explained that it is simply not practical to salt all roads.
“Roads Service’s limited resources must remain targeted on busier routes carrying most traffic. Last year it cost £10 million to grit the main routes in Northern Ireland. It would cost more than £35 million to grit all roads in a similar winter. In addition, if we were to grit the pavements during the winter season, it would cost more than £600,000 for each treatment.”
Ms Mackle said she was aware of the difficulties experienced by the public on town centre footpaths last year and she hoped partnership agreements with councils would ease these difficulties.
The divisional manager warned that even with the most careful and thorough planning, the use of special Met Office forecasts and the latest ice prediction technology, winter service remained a battle against the elements and ice-free roads could not be guaranteed.
“Motorists have to play their part by taking extra care during wintry conditions,” she urged. “The best advice is 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.”