Roads Minister Chris Hazzard has reminded motorists to take extra care while driving as winter approaches, as he announces the start of the annual roads winter safety service.
He was launching the winter arrangements in the Southern Area and offered assurances of every effort to keep traffic moving in adverse weather.
“Darker mornings and evenings and lower temperatures around this time of year make driving conditions more difficult and I want to encourage all road users to take extra care on our roads this winter,” said Minister Hazzard.
“While we can’t predict the weather winter may bring, the public can be assured that my winter safety service is now up and running and whatever the weather, will be working to keep our main roads open.
“Over 70,000 tonnes of salt is stockpiled and ready to be deployed should the weather impact on the main road network.
“Reserve stocks of around 20,000 tonnes of salt are also available at strategic locations and additional salt bins are provided on a self help basis on routes not included on the salting schedule.”
Transport NI Southern Divisional Manager, Simon Richardson confirmed arrangements for the local area, saying: “Throughout the winter season from now until the April, we will have 74 staff on standby in Southern Division to salt main roads, helping drivers to cope with wintry conditions. Salt barns and stockpiles are being filled to maximum capacity in Southern Division which carries out salting in the council areas of Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon and Newry, Mourne & Down.
“When ice or snow is forecast, we have 31 gritters available which can salt the main network in just over three hours, a massive logistical exercise that costs around £20,000 each time it takes place.
“TransportNI will continue to provide salt bins and grit piles at strategic locations and will endeavour to replenish them during the winter. The salt bins and grit piles will be for use on a self help basis to help prevent the formation of snow and ice on pavements and untreated roads. ”
Arrangements will also be in place in place to enlist the help of contractors, including farmers, to clear blocked roads and TransportNI has introduced enhanced communication arrangements and priority secondary salting to rural schools that are most affected by wintery weather conditions.
Mr Richardson continued: “Heavy snowfalls such as those we experienced in recent winters, highlighted the essential role farmers, agricultural contractors and other plant operators played in helping to clear the roads for the public. During these events, many people voluntarily helped out and their assistance was greatly appreciated.
“With their help, many roads blocked by snow were cleared and able to be used by the emergency services, utilities and the public.
“Even with the most careful and thorough planning, the use of special Met Office forecasts and the latest ice prediction technology, winter service is really a battle against the elements and ice-free roads cannot be guaranteed. Motorists have to play their part by taking extra care during wintry conditions.
“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.”