Gritted roads still dangerous, care urged
Council road staff told councillors yesterday that Donegal motorists must take great care when driving even after the council has gritted roads.
"They can still expect black ice and treacherous conditions even after we've gritted," Michael McGarvey, senior roads engineer, said at yesterday's reconvened November council meeting. Calling the current weather conditions exceptional, Mr. McGarvey said, "Let's get the message out: These conditions are not safe for doing your normal driving."
As Mr. McGarvey and Vincent Lynn, divisional manager of capital and marine for the council roads section, briefed councillors on the council's winter maintenance programme, a heavy snow fell outside County House in Lifford.
County Manager Seamus Neely reported that the council now has about 600 tonnes of road salt in stock. When Mr. Lynn spoke at last Thursday's meeting of the council's roads and transportation strategic policy committee, the council had 1,860 tonnes of salt.
The stocks are very limited, but the council is managing to keep priority routes in a passable condition, Mr. Neely said. He said the National Roads Authority (NRA), which has responsibility for co-ordinating the national supply of road salt, has promised Donegal 500 tonnes of salt today and an additional 500 tonnes on Thursday. This supply should address county needs until Dec. 17, Mr. McGarvey said.
Last Thursday councillors heard that the NRA had provided Donegal with just 960 tonnes of the 4,200 tonnes of salt the council had ordered. At the start of the winter emergency the council had filled its salt barns to capacity with 5,100 tonnes of salt. By yesterday afternoon, the council's 24 gritting lorries had spread about 4,900 tonnes of salt.
Councillors from all parties praised the work of council road crews and staff in keeping priority routes passable, and also the members of the public who have collected sand and grit to use on roads that are not on the council's salting programme. The council is making sand and grit available to the public through area offices.
"I do find it frustrating that we have to go begging to the NRA for more salt," said Donegal Mayor, Sinn Fin Cllr. Cora Harvey. But she said, "The council are doing their very, very best and it's not for a lack of work on their behalf."
"The focus is to say, ‘Let's look at what we have,'" Mr. McGarvey said. "We're managing that." To make the supplies go further, the council is now using a 50-50 mix of grit and salt when council lorries grit the 1,200 kilometres of roads that councillors have prioritised.
But the county manager echoed the engineers' warning. If a rain falls after roads are treated, the salt treatment can wash away. "Notwithstanding the fact the roads are treated, people need to treat them with great care," Mr. Neely said. The dangerous road conditions were illustrated over the weekend, when five council gritting lorries went off the road on Saturday morning and a sixth went off the road on Sunday morning. No council personnel were seriously injured, and five of the six lorries were back on the road yesterday.
Mr. McGarvey and Mr. Lynn said the risks will increase when surfaces begin to thaw before freezing again in continuing cold. Mr. Lynn showed images from a council weather station that showed a black-topped road transformed into a snow-covered road in an hour.
"We have a very limited supply of salt to deal with this," Mr. Lynn said. "We need far more salt and we haven't got it, and we are managing and doing our best."