Roads Chaos Leaves Many Down People Stranded

 Around 2am, Downpatrick man Mal Kearney was one  of many who faced the rigors of the freeze up. He finally managed to get home after a very uncomfortable ordeal. “The road just seemed to be littered with many abandoned cars. Driving conditions were simply terrible. It was extremely icy and I even crashed my car twice and hit a fallen tree. I saw too other drivers in difficulty and noticed there had been other crashes. “The temperature was very cold, and the road between Saintfield and the upper Ormeau Road just froze up and snow piled up on top of this. I could not see any gritters or salters on action. There was one but it seemed to look as though it had broken down. Many people were just frozen to the bone. I will think twice about heading back to Belfast unless the roads have been opened and are clear. “It was just a total shambles. Nothing seems to have been done to make the roads passable and safe. I’ll be surprised if there aren’t deaths on this road tomorrow, especially with the trees down. I just hope that anyone out in it gets to their destination safe and sound. [caption id="attachment_35729" align="alignleft" width="400"] Is Down ready for a big freeze?[/caption] “I passed two salters on the Antrim Road where I work but certainly did not see any working on the road from Belfast to Saintfield. These salters may have been on their way in the  direction of Carryduff, I don’t know. I left Downpatrick at 9.15pm and didn’t make it to Belfast until 11.35pm. That was on a clear road. My cousin left an hour before me for Belfast and also crashed. “There was just no sign of anyone out to clear the roads. And not a bit of snow on the Antrim Road where I work.” *** Ritchie Calls for DRD Toad’s Service Review After Problems on Main Routes South Down MP Margaret Ritchie MP has called for a review of Road Services’ handling of main routes during Bad Weather. Main routes in central Belfast and the greater Belfast area were hampered by snow in the past few days and commuters who made their way from rural areas such as South Down, found for the first time, that the main routes around Belfast were among the worse hit by the bad weather with many routes seemingly untouched by snow ploughs or gritting. She said: “Many of my constituents working or travelling to Belfast for personal reasons, including hospital appointments were surprised and unprepared for the impassable nature of the main routes in and  around Belfast. Being a rural constituency South Down drivers are used to having to cope with difficult driving conditions on many of our minor roads. However, in the last few days, many South Down drivers were unprepared for long delays in their vehicles, as they struggled to get in through Belfast. “Roads Service must immediately look into how this situation was allowed to happen, and to reoccur over the last few days. With some delays resulting in drivers confined to their vehicles for over five hours,unprepared in heavy snowfall, for what should have been a one hour jouney, this situation could have had serious repercussions I will also be raising this issue with the Minister for Regional Development,” added Ms Ritchie.

DRD Roads Service Explains
A spokeswoman for the DRD Road Service said: “During the severe winter weather, Roads Service works around the clock to grit the main road network across Northern Ireland which serves 80 per cent of the traffic. However it is a battle with Mother Nature and despite our best efforts to improve the safety and condition of the roads, Roads Service cannot guarantee ice/snow free roads at all times. Treated routes require to be trafficked to maximise the salt effectiveness. Drivers should drive according to the conditions.
“Roads Service were prepared for the forecast of snow over the weekend and this week.  Gritters with snow ploughs attached were out in force in the Saintfield and South Belfast areas, as they were throughout Northern Ireland.”
And responding  to a query from Down News, the spokesperson said: “No gritter broke down on this route.”
Transport Minister Calls For Motorists To Play  Their Part In Adverse Weather Conditions
 Transport Minister Danny Kennedy warned motorists back in October 2012 to take extra care while driving, as winter was approaching.
The Minister was speaking as he announced the start of the Roads Service’s annual Winter Service operation, and added: “Every night from now until the middle of April, we will have over 300 staff and 132 gritters on standby to salt main roads, helping drivers to cope with wintry conditions.  Salt barns and stockpiles have already been filled to maximum capacity and Roads Service is now holding stocks of almost 110,000 tonnes of salt.
“Five million pounds has been set aside for this massive logistical undertaking that involves salting around 7,000 kilometres of main roads in just over three hours, across Northern Ireland, at a cost of approximately £80,000 per night.”
The Minister also said that during periods of prolonged snow, all gritters will be fitted with snow ploughs and efforts directed to clearing snow from motorways and the trunk roads, before moving to other main roads and the busiest urban link roads.
“The operation will continue until all roads are cleared, but this may take some time, even with all resources deployed. In very deep snow, Roads Service will use its nine snow blowers, the latest of which can shift 1,600 tonnes of snow an hour.”
He said that arrangements are also in place to enlist the help of contractors, including farmers, to clear blocked roads and that Roads Service had introduced enhanced communication arrangements and priority secondary salting to approximately 50 rural schools that are most affected by wintery weather conditions.
In relation to the gritting of main footpaths in council areas, the Minister said: “I am very pleased with the progress made in this area with almost all councils now working with Roads Service to deliver this service.
“Roads Service will continue to provide, at strategic locations, approximately 4,800 salt bins and 50,000 grit piles for use on a self help basis to help prevent the formation of snow and ice on pavements and untreated roads – and will be continually replenishing these during the winter.”
Roads Service set up a traffic watch system to ensure that motorists are kept fully up to date with road conditions at this time of year. Information on salting activities is relayed electronically to the media to ensure the latest news on road conditions is available to motorists. This information is also relayed to the Roads Service public facing web site to ensure the public are kept up to date with winter service operations.
The Minister warned: “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.”
The Minister added that the public should also prepare for this annual winter battle with the elements and commercial property owners in particular should make sure that they have adequate supplies of salt in place to ensure the safety of employees and visitors. The Roads Service winter service leaflet ‘Keeping Traffic on the Move During Winter’ is available by calling 028 9054 0540 or from the website at: