Driving in Ireland prompts you to bring out the video camera, because no one’s going to believe this at home: A single-lane asphalt road hugging the side of a mountain, a 90-degree turn immediately after exiting a tunnel, and on-coming trucks that take up every inch of their side of the road – and some of yours.
The Irish have had to struggle with both geography and history in creating their roads. The same geography that evokes gasps as you round a corner – high cliffs surrounded by crashing waves, for example – creates a less than ideal environment for highways that even attempt to be straight. And Ireland’s been populated for thousands of years; the paths cows took long ago may have become the paved road you see today, and cows are not known for their strategic planning.
Even when you know these things, an American can come away quite baffled driving Irish roads. And it’s not just the driving-on-the-left-side-of-the-road thing. Rather, you question why you were warned about that mild curve when the next hairpin turn goes completely unannounced? What in the heck did that sign graphic mean? Finally, do they really think this a 100-kilometer (62 mph) road (as your car’s suspension gets a workout)?
By unfair comparison, we have a rich road system.
By unfair comparison, we have a rich road system. Many of our county roads would qualify as national primary roads in Ireland. They have shoulders, good drainage and road warning signs that mean the same in Minnesota as they do in Florida. Our entire system is a tribute to all the hard work done by engineers and contractors through the years to make our roads safe and reliable, even boring.
My adventures on Irish roads led to a conversation with an older woman sitting outside a restaurant. “Oh, you have lovely roads,” she said, and she knew whereof she spoke. Fearing air travel, she visits her son each year by taking a boat to New York City, meeting him there and then riding by car with him back to Kentucky.
“But here,” she shook her head, “there’s just no money.”
Unfortunately, Congress seems to have the same attitude when it comes to our roads. Even after passage of the stop-the-presses health care bill, industry insiders expect little action this year on a new highway bill.
The irony is that we get so much more for our road money than does the Republic of Ireland. They now spend the equivalent of $311 per person to fund their national road system, compared to the $129 per person we spend with our present highway legislation.
We don’t realize the incredible wealth we have in our existing road system. Let’s not squander it by neglect. EW