IRELAND'S ROADS programme has hit major delays due to a tightening of Irish government purse-strings forcing the suspension of a number of projects.
No new road schemes are now expected to start this year, despite a tranche being advanced to tender document stage.
Twelve jobs worth Euro600M (£390M) due to have started this year have been frozen, according to National Roads Authority sources.
The delays mean the ambitious £4.8bn roads programme announced in the country's National Development Plan (NDP) in 2000 is unlikely to be completed as scheduled by 2006.
There is now concern that apart from running late and despite stated commitments to complete the NDP, the government may scrap some projects to cut costs.
Factors blamed for the delay to the roads programme, which involves many UK consultants, include global and US economic stagnation which has led to an economic slowdown in Ireland and reduced tax revenues.
The foot and mouth crisis which prevented access to land; tender price inflation, which hit 15% in 2000 but is around 6% this year; and a dispute with farmers over prices for land acquired for road building, are also blamed.
Despite having legal rights to land access, the government offered bigger payments for land acquisition to the powerful farming lobby in the run-up to last May's election.
The extra cost, estimated to be at least double the £300M already been allocated for land purchase, is to come out of the roads budget rather than additional state funds.