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Roadworks in Northern Ireland – Eddies in the Space-Time Continuum*

This morning I went for a rather foggy ride from Bangor West in the direction of Donaghadee and further onto the Ards peninsula. As I came up to the Groomsport roundabout I noticed a large board alerting drivers about upcoming roadworks. That in itself is “a good idea”. But: reading the three different messages that were being displayed I started to wonder...




Let's consider these messages in one by one.

Groomsport Roundabout Resurfacing:” at first glance this seems like welcome news. Most roads in Ards and North Down are in a terrible state.The Groomsport roundabout's surface is not. In fact, as you head to Donaghadee on the A2 there is a section just before the 40mph limit with craters and fissures to rival the Grand Canyon (I exaggerate only a little).

Considering the limited resources the Department for Infrastructure spends on roads in Ards and North Down I wonder why DfI think it's a good idea to expend six weeks worth of resources and manpower to resurface a roundabout that is in fairly good condition - when a few kilometers down the road surface is so bad as to put cyclists' lives at risk as they dodge and veer around potholes?

I would not be surprised if the works have been scheduled because a computer flagged up that a period of X years has passed since the last time that roundabout was resurfaced and that it is now due to be redone, regardless of whether there are other roads in the area that need more TLC.

Work Starts Monday 19th February”: we welcome the advance warning. I hadn't been out that way for a while so couldn't say for sure how long those signs (I think there are four) have been up, but they are helpful. Thank you, DfI!

For Six Weeks”: Now we come to the 800-pound gorilla in the room... Six weeks?! Is that down to expectations management? Have DfI built in a cushion to allow for bad weather? For staff sickness? For supply shortages? Unforeseen problems related to the works? All of the above?

Six weeks to resurface a single roundabout seems like an extraordinarily long time. I am going to assume that the works will entail not just spraying the existing surface with bitumen and slapping a bit of gravel on top of that but that the existing road surface with be removed and replaced with new tarmac.

Here's my take on the six week timeline as a layperson without any training in civil engineering:

  • Set up Roadworks signage and cones prior to starting works: one day

  • Remove existing street furniture & ironwork,: one day

  • Milling (removing) the existing road layer: three days

  • Sweep up loose aggregate, adjust gully grates: one day

  • Apply bond coat: two days

  • Lay new road surface: three days (this includes 24 hours for cooling off)

  • Reinstall road markings and studs: one day

  • Repaint lines: one day

  • Contingency cushion: 3 days

  • Remove Roadworks signage and cones after finishing works: one day

That makes for a total of 17 days or three and a half work weeks. Either my estimate is overly ambitious or whoever is doing the work is doing it with just two workmen. Which is correct? Let me know in the comments.

Even if we add another couple of days on top of my 3-day contingency issue, those roadworks should be completed in just four weeks, not the advertised six. Put another way, DfI have allocated 50% more time than what would appear reasonable. That might even imply 50% higher costs. On reflection, to this observer it comes as no surprise that DfI is having trouble balancing its budget.

*"a moving disturbance in the fabric of space-time, an eddy, a pool of instability" - Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything. Somehow DfI manage to distort time...

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