29 August 2009

Motorways by Name only

Many countries in Europe, as well as on other continents, have an excellent system of roads. But Ireland does not. Many countries also have a network of motorways, and - again - Ireland is not among them. What we have on this island of ours is a patchwork of national, regional and local roads, interspersed with roadlets and paths that have not changed much over the past two or three centuries.

When most of Ireland's roads were designed and built, it was predominantly the (then British) military that was doing it, and for obvious reasons.
Thousands of years ago the ancient Egyptians, the Persians and other great empires had built roads to move their soldiers around faster, and the Romans became the true masters of strategic road building. Every major country in the world has learned from them and given attention to important roads.

However, Ireland is not a major country, and it was never touched by Roman civilisation.

This one can still notice here today. Most of our roads were built between the late 18th and early 20th century, and they were built for the usual traffic of the time: people on horseback, horse-drawn coaches and carriages, carts drawn by horses, oxen or donkeys, and people on foot.
And even though most of Irish roads are meanwhile covered with tarmac, they are still winded, quite narrow (especially when one compares them with roads in other countries) and often in need of maintenance we cannot afford.

Until about 30 years ago Ireland did not have any motorway at all. And it did not need one. Then some of the wider national roads around Dublin were designated as 'motorways', in order to give us a more modern look and impress a number of foreign visitors. We still had no real motorways, but pretence is a great thing for the Irish. And if one does it well here and pretends things long enough, people will actually believe that they exist. (Just think of leprechauns and the faireys...)

During the years of pretended economic boom, the period of the - once worshipped and now cursed - 'Celtic Tiger', a few new motorways have been constructed in Ireland. Most of them are in and around Dublin, and some of them were built with private money and are now operated as toll roads. They have the same traffic jams and congestions as all other roads, but their greedy operators charge motorists an arm and a leg for the privilege to crawl over their piece of tarmac instead of some other, a mile or two away.

But even with the new additions to the system, Ireland still has a very bad road network, and almost no motorways. If you want to see the real thing, you have to travel to Germany, where the motorway was invented in the 1930s. There most of them have six lanes as a rule, with some major sections being even wider and providing eight or even ten lanes.

What we have here in Ireland are mostly modernised national roads, in some sections widened to four lanes. But to make us look a little bigger and more important than we actually are, Noel Dempsey (right), currently Minister for Transport, has now "re-classified" 294.3 km of national roads as "motorways".

They are really motorways by name only, and nothing has changed on these roads, except that the speed limit has been increased from 100 km/h (the standard for national roads) to 120 km/h.
Under general traffic laws the new 'motorways' cannot be used by any learner-drivers, motorcycles and "certain types of agricultural vehicles".

One can understand the ban of agricultural vehicles. It makes sense and is the same in most other countries. As there are no 'learner-drivers' elsewhere - with exception of the UK - the question of them using motorways does not arise in other nations. But why ban motorcycles from our 'motorways'? Motorcyclists can use all roads in other countries, and there seem to be no problems with them, as long as they obey the rules of the road like everyone else.

This whole 're-classification' of roads is another example for the confusion and incomptence of our government in general, and for the specific incompetence of Noel Dempsey in particular. The man is useless and clueless, and has demonstrated this in several government departments he was in charge of. And Transport makes no difference to 'the bouncer' from Co. Meath.

The real joke - unfortunately not a good one - is the list of roads that are now 're-classified' as 'motorways'. If you expect a number of lengthy and well-developed sections of overland roads, you will be disappointed.

But then again, this is Ireland, so what can you really expect?

To begin with, of the 294.3 km of national roads that Noel Dempsey has pompously "re-classified as motorways" yesterday, less than half actually exist at present!
Only 42.6% (125.5 km) exist and are 'open for traffic', while 47.9% (140.8 km) are still 'under construction' and 9.5% (the 28 km section of the N 18 from Oranmore to Gort in Co. Galway) is only 'in planning'.

The longest part of newly re-classified 'motorway' that is actually open for traffic is a 21 km section of the N 11 between Arklow in Co. Wicklow and Gorey in Co. Wexford.
The rest is nothing but a higgledy-piggledy patchwork of small to medium-sized pieces all over the country, with the shortest being a section of the N 3 (from Dublin to Cavan) between Littlepace and Loughsallagh, which is just 2.1 km long.

This means that motorists driving on Ireland's national roads in future will constantly have to watch if they are on a stretch of official 'motorway' with 120 km/h speed limit, or on a normal national road with only 100 km/h limit. It will lead to even more confusion than there is now, and most likely to more speeding tickets for drivers who think that they are still on a 'motorway', while they have in fact passed it already.

The whole thing is nothing but a farce, another sick joke from an utterly clueless minister in an incompetent government that is simply not capable of doing anything right.

The Emerald Islander


Grandad said...

Having just driven two thirds of the length of France, I am reminded once again just how appalling our road system is. I refuse to call it a 'road network' as it is a mess of road styles, as you rightly say going back over the decades.

One thing I notice about driving in France is the infrequent changing of speed limits. Once you are on a major road, the limit tends to stand at 110 for tens of kilometers. Even where a major road passes through the heart of a village, speed is reduced to 70 and then only for the length of the village - usually a couple of hundred meters, if that.

One only has to drive from Rosslare to Dublin [a route with very heavy traffic] to see how daft the Irish system is, with its mix of pseudo-motorway, narrow winding roads and bits of dual carriageway.

Anonymous said...

I think the banning of motorcyclists from 'motorways' here is a very wise idea, considering a lot of drivers have absolutely no idea what a blind spot is, nor do they seem to know how to use the lanes properly. Any vehicle smaller than a mini is basically living on a wing and a prayer.

I recently learned that the Autoban in Germany was designed by none other than Hitler himself. There's a lot to be said for evil genius.

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