The City Council is split over whether or not the speed limit on Waterford’s Outer Ring Road should be increased from 60 to 80 kph.
Some say the current limit, broken in any event by the vast majority of motorists, is too low, particularly in light of higher speed being allowed on greatly inferior roads not far removed. Others argue that well enough should be left alone and that view is supported by the gardai who point out that there have been no accidents along the dual-carriageway since it opened five years ago.
The issue was debated at length at the Council’s February meeting on Monday night at which Cllr John Cummins (FG) tabled a motion calling for immediate steps to raise the limit.
He said the subject had been discussed at Transport SPC level but, frustrated by a lack of progress, he felt compelled to put the motion on the agenda for consideration by the Council members. He believed it would be reasonable and responsible to increase the limit on such a perfect road. Most drivers exceeded the current limit anyway and even the gardai, who didn’t want any change, acknowledged that 70kph was the average speed along the route.
He said Young Fine Gael carried out a survey which showed that 86 pc of users felt 60 was too low a limit. “There are twisty, narrow roads in the county which carry an 80 limit and it is lunacy that the Ring Road is 20 less than that”, he suggested, asserting that the public wanted change.
His party colleague, Cllr Jim D’Arcy, seconding the proposal, agreed that the current limit was being broken all the time.
But Director of Services Mr Fergus Galvin said the SPC, having considered the matter a year ago, recommended no change on advice from the gardai and because of the prohibitive cost of certain fittings which would have to be installed if the limit was to be raised.
He said the SPC was now revisiting the issue and suggested that perhaps it might be best left to that committee until it came up with a recommendation one way or the other. He added that the road had been built with a certain limit in mind.
He mentioned also that the SPC was looking at speed limits in the vicinity of schools and within housing estates.
Common sense
Cllr Tom Cunningham, chairman of the SPC in question, said he agreed with most of what Mr Galvin had said, but he disagreed that the committee had made any determination – the debate was ongoing and the engineers agreed sections of the road would be suited to a higher limit.
Also, what the gardai said was that they saw no reason to raise the limit, which was different to stating that it should not be raised. And there was nothing to indicate it would not remain safe with an 80 limit.
His view was that raising the limit made sense and safety would not be compromised. Common sense should prevail and a limit put in place which would be respected by the road users.
But Cllr David Cullinane said that although the motion was well intentioned, he would be slow to increase speed limits, especially if the gardai had concerns. He was anxious that the motion be deferred until all Council members had access to reports which had been presented to the SPC.
Cllr Gary Wyse said 9 out of 10 motorists were breaking the existing limit. They should listen to people and while conscious of the safety aspect, he was convinced 80 would be a correct limit.
Cllr Seamus Ryan said they shouldn’t raise the limit just because people were breaking the existing one – that would be a dangerous road to go down. Anyway, driving at 60 rather than 80 from one end of the roadway to the other would cost only a minute in time – it didn’t make all that much difference.
Lost lives
Cllr Jack Walsh recalled that they had been told at the road opening that the speed limit was based on its design. The important thing was that there had been no fatalities or injuries along the route and there were many families who would gladly settle for lower speed limits on certain roads if they could have lost loved ones returned to them.
He said that if the limit was increased to 80 there would still be motorists exceeding that speed and unless there was professional guidance to the contrary he would not be prepared to support a higher limit that might put lives at risk.
Cllr Cha O’Neill echoed those sentiments, saying he had to go along with the advice of the road engineers and the gardai. He wondered though about the assertion that there had been no accidents, because every crash barrier at the roundabouts had been smashed.
Cllr Mary Roche said it was well documented that the greater the speed the worse the injury when a crash occurred. She couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t just accept speed limits and drive within them. And she wondered if the Council would be held liable if it allowed a higher limit than that for which the road was designed.
Cllr Pat Hayes said he would require professional advice before making a decision. He went along with a suggestion from Deputy Mayor Davy Daniels, who chaired the meeting, that the issue be referred back to the SPC and a decision made further down the road on the basis of additional advice from informed sources.
Cllr Cummins agreed with that, provided a recommendation, on which the Council could vote, was made within three months.