Almost 6,000 southern drivers have been fined in the north since the beginning of the year

THE National Roads Authority has defended paying its staff a combined €11.4m annual salary even though there has been a substantial fall in motorway building projects.

With the NRA's workload having "virtually ceased to exist", the Labour Party has called for its staff to be redeployed to work on more pressing infrastructural schemes.

"The NRA is out of the loop at the moment in terms of major projects so its functions need to be reviewed," said Labour transport spokesman Joe Costello.

Severe budgetary restrictions have led to the suspension of many infrastructural projects, including some of those administered by the NRA.

The authority has had to suspend 20 schemes on national primary roads and 18 on national secondary routes, all planned for this year. Many others are at planning stage.

The NRA said in a statement: "Due to the reduced level of funding available to the authority, it has been necessary to suspend further development work on a number of proposed major national road-improvement schemes."

However, it pointed out there were some 50 improvement projects at various stages of progression. These included work on the N2 Slane bypass, the N4 and N6.

"An extensive €56m programme is being carried out this year involving road pavement improvement works at over 110 locations," it said.

Safety measures at high-risk accident locations, the installation of new directional signage as well as bridge management and rehabilitation programmes are also being rolled out.

However, the future of the authority is now in question, particularly given its operational costs – 137 staff alone cost the state €11,418,525 last year.

"It would be wrong to spend anything like the same resources on the NRA," said Costello, who cited the Metro North and underground Dart projects as the "main" infrastructural schemes in Ireland.

"It's a light burden of work that is being placed under its authority and it looks like it's getting lighter all the time.

"The whole operation needs to be looked at in light of the fact that road construction has ground to a halt. There is nothing, only a small number of projects and some limited planning work going on and other projects which are not likely to get the go-ahead in the immediate future."

Costello commended the NRA in getting past projects completed on time and, in some cases, under budget. "But at the present time the roads project and the NRA's workload has virtually ceased to exist," he said.