Regional and local roads are the core of regional and rural transport. They are crucial to rural economic activity, and the importance of commuting to work across counties and to towns and cities is well recognised see here (1MB) and here (2MB) .
While motorways and national primary route have received considerable investment and have a very important impact on regional transport, good quality regional and local roads are essential for balanced regional development and for social inclusion providing vital linkages among communities, and between communities, their towns and larger urban centres.
There are almost 91,000kms of regional and local roads in Ireland, which accounts for 94% of the country’s roads network and they carry around 54% of all road traffic. It is important that these local and regional roads are maintained to a reasonable standard according to their traffic load for local importance, and that there is a planned cycle of maintenance implemented by the local authorities who manage these roads.
Primary responsibility for improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads rests with local authorities. State grants are provided to supplement realistic contributions by local authorities from their own resources. The recent announcement of the general grant allocation for regional and local roads budget allocation for 2016 is therefore of interest. It also provides a timely opportunity to highlight to decline in this budget over the last 8 years.
The regional and local roads grant allocation for 2016 is €298m which less than half that for 2009. The graph below shows the very significant decline in spending in this area since then.
Figure 1: Annual Budget allocation for Regional and Local roads 2009-2016
Source: Department of Environment, Community and Local Government announcements, Dáil Statements www.oireachtas.ie
When considering the very significant decrease in the annual budget allocation, it should be recognised that there have been important changes to local authority funding, most particularly the Local Property Tax. Resources from the Local Property Tax can, in more wealthy counties, ensure that there is a sufficient budget to maintain regional and local roads to appropriate standards. In fact none of the Dublin local authorities received any in 2015. Poorer counties with less expensive property and fewer residences, which are usually the counties which also have relatively fewer commercial rate payers, have less money in their own budgets to spend and are more reliant on this roads funding. Roads in these counties are likely to be feeling the greatest impacts. The changes in individual local authority allocations in the Western Region will be considered in a future blog post.
It should also be noted that while this post looks at annual regional and local road allocations as announced early each year, there are often additions to this allocation during the year, either for specific projects or as a supplemental allocation to each county but while these supplements to the budget as very welcome, they cannot be relied on and of course this also make the planning of road maintenance more difficult.
While the reduction in the government grant allocation for regional and local roads budget is very stark, its impact needs more detailed consideration as do the levels of allocation to the different local authorities and their own resources available for local and regional roads.
Nonetheless for many local authorities it is increasingly difficult to maintain the regional and local road network and the impact of reduced budgets, since 2009, has a cumulative effect on the quality of the local and regional road network.
Users of these roads are well aware of this as they, in turn pay the higher costs of wear and tear on their vehicles, when, in most cases there are few alternative transport options.
 Arising from the introduction of the local property tax, the four Dublin local authorities were in a position to self-fund for regional and local roads in 2015 and the funding allocation for county Cork was reduced. Similar details were not provided in the 2016 announcement
 Leitrim, for example, received €14m from this budget in 2010 and €7.4m this year. Reported in Leitrim Observer 10.02.2016 http://epaper.leitrimobserver.ie/iconic/books/160210leitrimobserver/index.html#/1/
 . For example an additional €50m was allocated for regional and local roads in July 2013