Category Archives: Highway Maintenance

CYCLING FUNDING FAILS TO ADDRESS FUNDAMENTAL SAFETY ISSUE

Government proposals of £7million funding for new bike-friendly areas fail to address a fundamental issue of cycling road safety: potholes and deteriorating road surfaces reports the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

“The government’s own figures state that 100 cyclists a year are killed or seriously injured due to accidents caused by poor or defective road surfaces. This is the issue that needs to be addressed”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Under the proposals the government will provide £6.5 million funding for a range of projects to improve road safety and help create more bike-friendly areas in 8 cities including Bristol, Leeds, Cambridge, Birmingham, Norwich, Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford. In addition, it will also provide £0.5 million to support the Cycling UK Big Bike initiative to get more people cycling safely.

“Cyclists are amongst our more vulnerable road users. For them, the continued deterioration of local road surfaces can result in death or serious, life-changing injuries”, said Robinson. “Initiatives to get more people cycling are to be welcomed but the government needs to invest in the provision of a well-maintained road network that is safe to for them to use.”

Robinson points to the latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey that found to restore the local road network to a satisfactory condition would cost over £12.06 billion and it would take 13 years to address the backlog of potholes. Produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) the survey found that such is the rate of deterioration a sixth of local roads could be unusable within five years.

“Before making headline grabbing announcements the government should provide real levels of investment in road maintenance to ensure that cyclists have a safe road surface to cycle on”, said Robinson.

POTHOLES: THE VITAL STATISTICS

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has published a new and updated compendium of facts and figures behind the UK’s deteriorating local road network together with a range of recommendations to address the issue

Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive said: “‘Potholes: the vital statistics’ is a sad indictment of the failure by successive governments to properly invest in a well-maintained local road network. To put it in context, the combined spend of local authorities on local road maintenance amounts to just 1% of the estimated replacement cost of the UK’s greatest infrastructure asset.

The 2017 statistics are pulled from a wide range of government and industry sources and they underline the result of decades of under-investment in maintaining the local road network

According to the 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey it would cost £12.6 billion and take 14 years to fix the current backlog of pothole repairs. This cost has increased from £11.8 billion. Lack of funding has forced one in five local authorities in England to cut their overall highways and transport budgets. More than half have cut spending on road maintenance by an average fall of £900,000. Meanwhile, as the local road network deteriorates, it is expected to carry more and more traffic. Department for Transport statistics show that traffic is at a record high with 325.1 billion vehicle miles travelled in 2017 – an increase of 1.4% over 2016. The local road network showed the largest increase. A-road traffic increased by 1.1%, minor roads were up by 2.1%, motorway traffic increased by 0.9%

Insurers Confused.com have demonstrated the depth of the pothole problem and calculated that when combined the total depth of UK potholes 2017 was 40km. That is almost 4 times deeper than the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench (11,000m)

RSTA argues that a well-maintained local road network is essential to the social and economic well-being of the country. It connects the national motorway and trunk road network, ports and airports and so has an important role in increasing national productivity. “All journeys start and end using the local road network. Government continues to fail to understand the direct correlation between a well-maintained local road network and a prosperous economy,” said Robinson. “Investing in high profile projects is fine but you need the well-maintained infrastructure to connect those projects. There is little point HS2 shaving 40 minutes of the London to Birmingham train journey time if your car is made unroadworthy by a pothole when trying to get to the station.

RSTA is calling for a number of actions to address the issue of deteriorating local roads. These include Inject an additional £1 billion into road maintenance by investing just 2p a litre from the existing fuel duty. Ring-fence local highway budgets. Starved of funding, by 2020 local councils will spend 60p in every £1 raised by council tax on social care leaving less to fund essential road maintenance. Above all, no more lip service from national government. There needs to a real understanding of the essential role that the local road network plays in the national social and economic well-being of the country coupled with real meaningful action

“Motorists pay £26.9 billion in fuel duty, £25 billion VAT on fuel and £6.1 billion for other motoring taxes. An annual total of £58 billion. These statistics show that they are getting a very poor return for their money, said Robinson

‘Potholes: The Vital Statistics’ is available as a free download from: http://www.rsta-uk.org/pot-holes-vital-statistics/

INVESTMENT IN MAJOR ‘A’ ROADS WELCOMED BUT WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE LOCAL ROAD NETWORK?

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed government proposals to invest in a Major Roads Network that could see £100 million new funding for key local ‘A’ roads but warns that the rest of the local network must not be left to deteriorate still further

Under the proposals 5,000 miles of ‘A’ road will be eligible for new funding from the National Roads Fund for upgrades and improvements. Road projects will be developed by local councils and, where possible, sub-national transport bodies – a regional body which influences funding decisions such as Transport for the North. This is to ensure that they will be designed by local areas to deliver the best solutions for their roads. From 2020 the National Roads Fund will be paid for by Vehicle Excise Duty, which raised about £6 billion last year. Consultation on the proposals will close on 19th March 2018.

Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive, said: “For decades the local road network has suffered from under-investment and, despite the fact that they represent 97% of the UK road network, continue to deteriorate due to insufficient funds to support planned maintenance.

The proposals to increase investment in a network of major ‘A’ roads is welcomed but what of the roads that connect these? Are those ‘A’ roads that are not part of the proposed network and the ‘B’ roads that connect these to be left to deteriorate still further?”

£600 BILLION NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE PIPELINE PUTS CART BEFORE THE HORSE

The announcement by the government that some £600 billion is to be spent on national infrastructure investment is a case of putting “the cart before the horse” believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

The announcement forms the central part of the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline 2017 which provides a programme of projects to be undertaken over the next 10 years. These range from major motorway improvements to increasing rail capacity, from building new towns to redeveloping urban centres.

“The pipeline of national infrastructure projects is very impressive. However, it has a fundamental flaw. It ignores the fact that nearly all journeys begin and end on the local road network which continues to deteriorate due to lack of investment. This means that sparkly new national infrastructure will have to be accessed via potholed, rutted roads”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Robinson points to the 2017 Local Authority Road Maintenance survey (ALARM), published by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, that reported to bring the road network up to a reasonable standard would cost £11.8 billion and would take 14 years to complete. Worryingly, the survey also found that overall local highway budgets for road maintenance have fallen by 16%.

“With the majority of all journeys being taken on the local road network, the government should invest to bring this up to scratch first before spending billions on headline grabbing projects,” said Robinson.

Furthermore, that ability must have the flexibility to adapt to every potential different road scenario. “Given the deteriorating condition of much of our road network the vision of fast self-driving autonomous cars will be a reality of slow-moving vehicle convoys forever in ‘proceed with caution’ safety mode. Rather than a smooth, quiet journey, when travelling on many of our roads the self-driving car’s alarm for approaching potholes would be beeping constantly,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Robinson continued: “The future vision the autonomous self-driving car is enticing but it must not overshadow the prosaic reality of a potholed, deteriorating road network that can barely cope with the traffic of today let alone that of tomorrow.”

ADDITIONAL BUDGET POTHOLE FUNDING IS ‘PALTRY’

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has described the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s pledge of an additional £45 million to repair potholes as ‘paltry’. The funding pledge is in the small print of today’s Autumn Statement.

“Although the Department for Transport did announce in January 2017 funding of £1.2 billion for English local roads for the period 2017-18. That does not address the staggering £12 billion necessary to address the current backlog of repairs and potholes and bring the local road network up to an acceptable standard. This additional £45 million is a low paltry figure when set against the annual £58 billion that motorists pay in taxation for the privilege of driving on a deteriorating road network,” said Howard Robinson RSTA chief executive.

The condition of the roads provides a visible indication of the state of a country’s social well being and economic performance. With every road journey starting and ending on a local road the need for have a well-maintained network is paramount. The Autumn Statement states that: “good quality infrastructure is essential for the economy and productivity”, but as Robinson pointed out: “The development of a first class global economy will not happen on a third world road network.

Yet again, we have a chancellor who has failed to address the decades of under-investment in road maintenance. He has demonstrated no understanding that a well-maintained local road network is essential to the national economy.”

CYCLISTS’ ACCIDENTS UNDERLINE NEED FOR NATIONAL POTHOLE DEFINITION

The rise in number of cyclists being injured by accidents caused by deteriorating road surfaces underlines calls for a national statutory standard definition of what comprises a pothole.

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has warned that without such a standard, cash-strapped local authorities may move the goal posts in order to save money by not repairing smaller potholes.

New figures from the Department for Transport show that almost 100 cyclists a year are involved in incidents in which “poor or defective” roads were a factor. Lawyers acting on behalf of accident victims report that many councils only fixed potholes that were deeper than 4cm, despite the risk of accidents resulting from shallower defects. North Yorkshire county council recently rejected a cyclist’s compensation claim following a pothole-related accident after producing documents showing that the road was inspected a week before and that “no defects” were found. Lawyers acting for the claimant reported that because the pothole was only 3cm deep the council’s response was that it “did not consider that the defect which caused your accident is dangerous”.

Although there is widespread adoption of the ‘Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure Code of Practice’ (previously called Well Maintained Highways) this only offers guidance as to best practice. It does not provide a national definition of potholes. As a result there are differing approaches throughout the UK. In Gloucestershire, a road surface defect becomes a pothole if it is 4cm deep and 30cm wide. Neighbouring Worcestershire has the same depth criteria of 40mm but a smaller dimension of 20cm. In Bath, a smaller depth of 3cm is accepted as being a pothole. However, in Hounslow, London, a pothole will only be repaired urgently if it reaches a depth of 7.5cm. In Warwickshire, a pothole of up to 5cm deep is not considered to be hazardous and will only be repaired as part of routine maintenance six months after being reported. By contrast, Herefordshire County Council “aims to record and treat all potholes regardless of depth”.

“The lack of a national pothole definition means that we have a postcode lottery of road repair as different local authorities take different approaches. There is no consistency,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “Local highway authorities are under immense financial pressure. However, under the Road Traffic Act 1980 they have a duty of care to properly maintain their road network but there is no national definition or agreement as to when a pothole is a pothole.”

He continued: “The government must recognise its responsibility to provide the necessary levels of funding to enable local authorities to fulfill their responsibilities to provide a safe and well-maintained road network”.

KEEPING THE ROADS SAFE DURING WINTER DEPENDS ON SPRING, SUMMER AND AUTUMN MAINTENANCE

The maxim ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ could not be more appropriate when it comes to road winter maintenance believes Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

For real road network resilience against the impact of winter then a proper programme of maintenance needs to be undertaken beforehand. From April to September highway authorities need to implement planned programmes of maintenance that will ensure roads are resilient to the rainfall, freeze and thaw cycles of winter. Failure to do so will store up costly problems for the following year.

If a road surface is not kept in good order rain water can seep through cracks and collect underneath. The water then freezes and expands forcing up the road surface. The weight of traffic then helps to break up the surface and potholes are formed.

The significant consequence of not carrying out adequate maintenance is demonstrated by the 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey. Produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) the survey reports that the cost to restore the local road network to a satisfactory condition is over £12 billion and that it would take 13 years to address the backlog of repairs in England and 9 years in Wales. The Local Government Association (LGA) believes that the pothole repair bill could reach £14 billion in two years. LGA points out that the local roads network suffers from decades of under investment. Over the remaining years of the decade the Government will invest more than £1.1 million mile in maintaining national roads – which make up just 3 per cent of the total road network. This investment is in stark contrast with the £27,000 per mile investment for maintaining local roads which make up 97 per cent of England’s road network.

Road users are fully aware of the poor condition. A report from the RAC found that 89% of its members are ‘frustrated’ at the condition of their local A and B roads with only 2% believing that local roads are adequately maintained. Motorists pay £46 billion a year in taxes but just £2.7 billion of this is spent on road maintenance.

Cash strapped local highway authorities are doing what they can. Over the last year they have filled in over 2 million potholes. However, the lack of assured real long-term funding means that much of this is expensive reactive repair rather than cost-effective preventative maintenance that would have prevented the potholes from forming in the first place. Reactive repair rather than preventive programmed maintenance is an illogical approach. Particularly as it costs only £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road for ten years but costs an average £57m2 to repair one pothole.

Undertaking regular and timely maintenance of roads using surface treatments such as surface dressing is a far more sustainable and cost effective approach than allowing roads to deteriorate to a poor condition requiring more costly intervention. There are a wide range of surface treatments available to ensure optimum performance of roads that are fast to apply, generate no or minimum waste, lower the carbon footprint of roads and provide cost economies that allow local authorities to get the best value from their pressurised highways budgets. Timely intervention by selecting and applying the right surface treatment for the job will significantly extend the service life of roads, delaying the time when structural maintenance will be required.

Extending the life of road surfaces by undertaking planned maintenance ensures better long-term texture and better skid resistance. Both are key factors for safety during the winter. Highway authorities have a duty under Section 41 (1A) of the Highways Act 1980 to ensure “so far is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow and ice”. This requirement is fundamental to the winter maintenance programmes carried out by highways authorities.

Having ensured that their road networks are in a good state of repair during the road maintenance season of April to September, highway authorities should have a winter maintenance programme scheduled for October to March to ensure that they are able to respond to adverse weather conditions. This includes having:

  • A well maintained vehicle fleet of gritters equipped with the necessary snow ploughs
  • Access to snow blowers
  • Drivers trained and familiar with their treatment routes
  • Access to short-term and long-term weather forecasts
  • Duty rotas for 24-hour coverage
  • Adequate supplies of salt held in depots

Highway authorities together with their private sector partner organisations need to ensure that they review and continue to develop their winter maintenance strategies. That entails continued investment in monitoring both road surface and weather conditions and in having systems in place that enable decision makers and operatives to use the resultant data to make the right decisions at the right time. This includes ensuring that treatments are timed so that the salt and grit are spread on roads prior to the formation of ice.

Key to this is the snow forecast. On receipt of this highway authorities will instigate a pre-planned response that may include the establishment of a ‘snow desk’ to facilitate co-ordination of resources. Salt and grit will be spread prior to the snow’s arrival. The vehicle fleet will be fitted with snowploughs and operatives placed on stand-by. On the arrival of snow, the fleet with be sent out to spread more salt and to plough away any snow accumulations. For extreme snowfall dedicated snow-blowers may be deployed.

Last year’s LGA’s Winter Readiness Survey demonstrates the readiness of highway authorities. It reported that councils had stockpiled 1.2 million tonnes of grit and a fleet of state-of-the-art gritters were ready to be deployed with 75 per cent of these using GPS technology.

The need for a prepared approach has been highlighted by extreme weather concerns raised by the Met Office that the UK could soon see a repeat of the high levels of flooding of recent years with a predicted one-in-three chance that there would be new record set for monthly rainfall during coming winters. The Met Office used a super-computer to simulate possible extreme weather conditions and found a 34 per cent chance of a regional monthly rainfall record being set in of England and Wales. This also highlights the need for the roads to be well-maintained in the first instance in order to negate the impact of flooding and water ingress.

Winter maintenance for the road network is part of the overall annual maintenance cycle. Roads need to be monitored, repaired and maintained during Spring, Summer and Autumn in readiness for the impact of Winter. Although the focus of winter maintenance is to keep the roads clear of ice and snow, the impact these have on a poorly maintained road surface cannot be ignored. It really is ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.

RECORD LEVELS OF TRAFFIC FORCED TO USE DETERIORATING ROAD NETWORK

New Department for Transport statistics underline the unprecedented demands being placed on our local road network which, due to decades of under investment in maintenance, is simply not up to the job reports the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

According to the recently published ‘Provisional Road Traffic Estimates: Great Britain 2016 – 2017’, the total number of vehicle miles travelled grew to 325.1 billion, a 1.4% increase from June 2016 to June 2017 323.7 billion. Traffic on ‘A’ roads and minor roads has increased to record levels. Traffic on rural ‘A’ roads increased by 2.1%, compared to 2015, to 94.5 billion vehicle miles. Traffic on minor rural roads increased by 2.1% to 46 billion vehicle miles. The level of traffic has increased every quarter for the last four years.

Despite this significant increase in traffic, the latest Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM), published by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, found that the overall local highway budgets for road maintenance have fallen by 16%, that to bring the road network to a reasonable standard would cost £11.8 billion and would take 14 years to complete.

“As traffic levels increase so do the demands being placed on an under-funded road network”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “An efficient, well-maintained road network is essential for the social and economic well-being of the country. Record levels of traffic are forced to use a road network that is not in a fit state due to decades of under investment.”

POTHOLES COULD SCUPPER SELF-DRIVING CAR DREAM

With the announcement that the first Level 4 self-driving cars are to be tested on Oxford’s streets next year and then on journeys to-and-from London in 2019 the futuristic vision of automated self-driving cars could be closer to reality than you think. However, the humble pothole could seriously knock that vision off-course believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic idea. Companies like Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla have already released, or are soon to release, self-driving features that give the car some ability to drive itself. Tech companies are also trying to pioneer the self-driving car. Google has carried out tests of its driverless car prototype on roads in California.

Meanwhile, in the UK trials of self-driving cars have been undertaken in Bristol, Greenwich, Coventry and Milton Keynes and now the DRIVEN consortium, led by Oxbotica, has announced live trials of self-driving Level 4 cars on roads in Oxford and then along the Oxford-to-London corridor. Cars operating at Level 4 autonomy have the capability to drive themselves most of the time without any human input.

Proposed benefits of self-driving cars include increased safety and less accidents and improved usage of road space resulting in less congestion, reduced pollution and more efficient fuel consumption.

However, the utopia of self-driving autonomous cars all equally spaced-out on roads, the potential dangerous impact of human error removed, with the vehicle occupants relaxing as they are driven to their destination could be parked if the road network is not better maintained.

In addition to the need for increased telematic communication and information systems to direct self-driving cars, the road surface must be maintained in top condition for self-driving cars to properly function. The cars will have to be equipped to ‘read the road’ and make allowances for potholes, reduced skid resistance and poor road markings. They will have to replicate the instinctive human ability to almost simultaneously observe, analyse, decide and react. Furthermore, that ability must have the flexibility to adapt to every potential different road scenario. “Given the deteriorating condition of much of our road network the vision of fast self-driving autonomous cars will be a reality of slow-moving vehicle convoys forever in ‘proceed with caution’ safety mode. Rather than a smooth, quiet journey, when travelling on many of our roads the self-driving car’s alarm for approaching potholes would be beeping constantly,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Robinson points to the 2017 Local Authority Road Maintenance survey (ALARM), published by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, that reported to bring the road network up to a reasonable standard would cost £11.8 billion and would take 14 years to complete. Worryingly, the survey also found that the overall local highway budgets for road maintenance have fallen by 16%.

Robinson continued: “The future vision the autonomous self-driving car is enticing but it must not overshadow the prosaic reality of a potholed, deteriorating road network that can barely cope with the traffic of today let alone that of tomorrow.”