News Focus: Safety on the Piltown/Fiddown Bypass

Flowers at the Tower Road Junction in Piltown, where motorist Denis Walsh lost his life on December 1st.

Flowers at the Tower Road Junction in Piltown, where motorist Denis Walsh lost his life on December 1st.

A hair raising morning in the “Valley of Death”

TD and Councillor believe roundabouts can curb speed on Piltown N24 Bypass

On a misty Tuesday, December 20th, The Munster Express spent 45 minutes at the Tower Road junction in Piltown in the company of Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan and his party colleague, Councillor Pat Dunphy.

This is the most high profile of several troublesome junctions on the N24 Piltown/Fiddown Bypass, where local resident Denis Walsh lost his life when his car came into collision with a lorry on December 1st.

“I froze looking at her,” said Cllr Dunphy of a female motorist who drove down the Tower Road, turning her car right onto the Bypass, towards Carrick-on-Suir. Alongside her in the passenger seat? A child, no more than a toddler, drinking a bottle of milk while strapped into a babyseat.

The motorist drove out onto the middle of the N24, the ‘Two and One’ lane wired barrier flanking the front and rear of her car, as a truck emerged from the fog, also Carrick-bound, 30 metres or so to her left as she looked, over the child.

All three of us, watching from the roadside, thought she was going to chance pulling out in front of the truck. Thankfully she didn’t, and her journey proceeded safely.

Added to that, within six to seven minutes of arriving at the junction, we witnessed three cars, driving in thick fog, performing u-turns at the junction, presumably having entered the Bypass from the nearby ‘Ink Bottle’ junction, to drive back in the direction of Carrick-on-Suir. We can lament questionable engineering all we want, but we cannot lose sight of bad driving either, and, to be fair, I don’t feel it has within the context of this ongoing but necessary debate.

As the fog lifted, we caught sight of the fly-over primarily serving the relatively quiet Tybroughney Road – quiet when compared to the traffic levels at the Tower Junction, which all locals would readily testify to.

Visibility all along this road, virtually parallel to the River Suir (and its regularly occurring morning mist) between Mooncoin and Carrick-on-Suir, is another issue which Transport Infrastructure Ireland must pay attention to when this troublesome section of road is further modified.

Not for the first time, Cllr Dunphy said that the provision of a roundabout at the Tower Road junction ought to be considered by the TII as part of the road safety improvement clearly required here.

“The space is there for a roundabout – there’s no doubt about it,” Cllr Dunphy claimed. “I mean you look around and there’s not a house in sight here so nobody’s direct property would be impacted by such a project.

“A roundabout here would represent a sensible quick fix, it would slow down traffic and would be far safer than what we’re looking out at right now. Now, one of the things that’s been said to me more than once when raising this over the years has been the TII (previously titled the NRA) pointing out that this is the main route from Rosslare to Limerick and that you can’t really slow down traffic by putting in a roundabout here…but there are roundabouts beyond Grannagh, at Slieverue and in other parts of the country such as in Monaghan and Longford, on national primary roads (”and outside Cahir,” as Deputy Phelan interjected), so the quickest solution would be a roundabout.

Now, if they sanction a fly-over, I feel a lot of people living locally, along with those who use the road on a regular basis, would be pleased with that. But a roundabout would certainly be the quickest thing which could be done to improve safety, but look, doing something just here isn’t sufficient.

The scene on the Piltown/Fiddown Bypass following a fatal road traffic accident last August.

The scene on the Piltown/Fiddown Bypass following a fatal road traffic accident last August.

There are a lot of junctions between Grannagh and Carrick-on-Suir which need to be looked at, but this bypass, it really was messed up back in the mid-90s when it came to its design. There are problems here, at Mooncoin and beyond in Grannagh – the ‘Roadstone Junction’ springs to mind…this is a huge issue, and while we are anxious to see certain safety measures brought in promptly, we need to see the right thing being done here when taking the long term picture into account.”

Deputy Phelan was among a group of Kilkenny TDs whom, along with Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath (who has repeatedly called for a complete upgrade of the N24), recently met with Transport Minister Shane Ross, who has committed to visiting the Bypass in the New Year.

“He was sympathetic to the points we raised, and he’s not a naturally sympathetic person to be honest,” said Deputy Phelan.

“John McGuinness (FF) had an adjournment motion on the Wednesday (of the previous week), we as a group of Kilkenny TDs met on that Tuesday and I as the Government TD was asked to arrange a meeting with Minister Ross, which took place on the Thursday, and the four of us (Deputies Phelan, Funchion, McGuinness and Aylward), along with Mattie discussed the ongoing concerns we have with the Bypass, and also raised the most recent fatal accident on this road with him. He’d gotten a briefing the previous day so he was familiar enough with it, he confirmed that he’ll come down in the New Year and have a look at it and having read what he’d read about it, said that this would be a priority for him.”

Deputy Phelan, sounding a cautionary note, added: “But the Minister was at pains to say that there are a number of such road priorities elsewhere in the country. He clearly felt, it’s fair to say, that someone has to be done to improve the safety record of this particular stretch of road.”

Assessing what he’d seen from the roadside that morning, Deputy Phelan said “an awkward number of situations developed before our eyes because of where the road is located, so close to the banks of the river. It’s often misty here, even on a fine summer’s day. But this morning was particularly misty; I’d say we were looking at traffic passing through freezing fog, and while it mightn’t represent typical daily conditions, it has certainly proven a worthwhile exercise, even standing here for a relatively short period of time…

“The safest method of ensuring we don’t have as many accidents here or elsewhere on this road would be roundabouts because they force people to physically slow down. A sign or a reduction in the speed limit, I think most of us would agree, just wouldn’t deliver the same positive impact. Roundabouts would also probably be the one long-term development that could be worked on quickest. Roads are about getting from A to B safely, but they’re also about getting people from A to B safely – and roundabouts represent the obvious solution. Now, maybe the engineers might come back with other recommendations, but as long as something is done to improve safety on this road, particularly at the right hand junctions, I feel the local community would welcome such a move.”

Another issue which became plain while watching cars turning out towards Carrick from the Tower Road is how the ‘Two and One’ barrier in the middle of the road also hinders visibility levels.

Said John Paul Phelan: “The reflectors at the Tower Junction, and at the Ink Bottle, appear to have lost a great deal of their efficacy – they’re not really reflecting anymore – and that’s creating an additional potential hazard at night time, particularly for people who are not overly familiar with the lay out of the road. It’s off-putting for drivers on the road, along with those coming onto it, trying to judge what distance away the coming traffic is, given that you effectively have to look over the wires to see what’s coming from the Waterford and Waterford direction. We’ve been standing above eye level from a driver’s perspective here and we can see how difficult it can be to judge that distance, and of course it’s a lot tougher to judge in misty conditions such as those we’ve witnessed this morning.”

The width of the single lane serving the Tower Road Junction, when approaching from Carrick, also constitutes a problem for all road users, a point I put to Cllr Dunphy.

As most drivers on the route will testify to, as the two lane system between the Ink Bottle Junction and the Tower Road Junction narrows to one, far too many motorists put the foot down during the closing 200-metre stretch of the ‘fast’ inside lane.

“It’s probably narrower that some of the byroads leading onto it, when it reduces to that single lane, with the channel of reflective bollards on either side as you approach the junction,” he stated.

“For me now, standing here looking at it, I’d term that as an obstacle course. The reflectors aren’t working the way they should, which is straight away a problem on its own. Traffic doesn’t slow down the way it should approaching these delineators, and those same delineators are regularly caked in muck at the Ink Bottle which makes them worse than useless – in fact it makes them a danger. But leaving things as they are? It’s just not on.”

Would lighting here, as well as at Turkstown, Fiddown, the Ink Bottle and at Garrynarea, improve road safety?

“It’s bound to be,” said Cllr Dunphy. “To think there’s no lighting on the road between Mooncoin and Carrick-on-Suir is an incredible thing to say at the end of 2016. Just look at the example of the Callan Bypass, the lighting of it has made a huge difference. And if this road was lit up, it would be a huge help, no two ways about it…as John Paul said, the right hand turns have to be looked at, and installing roundabouts would eliminate some of those right hand turns, and that would make the road safer.”

The saddest thing about the history of this route is that it has been problematic from the day locals caught sight of the Bypass’s initial blueprint, let alone from its operational opening.

“Nobody really seemed to listen to local concern at the time,” said Cllr Dunphy.

“And that’s a huge shame because local knowledge does count for something, and people should have been listened to at the time…and the whole issue with this road just goes to show how people in high places, and people in the TII, have lost the plot by not listening to people on the ground and people using the road on a day to day basis.

“And if you ask me why we’re after having Brexit and votes like that, it’s because people are not being listened to and they’re being upset at being not listened to.”

John Paul Phelan added: “This junction has been a problem since day one. And that there’s still no lighting here doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

Right now, installing lights here and at the busiest junctions on this Bypass is, at the very least, what ought to be done. It might take a combination of roundabouts and fly-overs to get where we need to get to when it comes to this Bypass, part of the main route between Waterford and Limerick, and we know what needs to be done. What we now need is the TII to grasp the nettle on this.”

Deputy John Paul Phelan: "We need the TII to grasp the nettle on this."

Deputy John Paul Phelan: “We need the TII to grasp the nettle on this.”

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