Category Archives: Highway Maintenance

RSTA CONFERENCE CALLS FOR PROPER RECOGNITION OF ‘CINDERELLA’ LOCAL ROAD NETWORK

A vibrant national economy needs a well-maintained local road network. The presenters and delegates at the recent RSTA industry conference were agreed. The issue is how to convince the government in its Westminster bubble that the Cinderella of the UK transport system should go to the Ball?

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, opened the conference by describing the local road network as ‘the Cinderella’ of the UK transport system. It does all of the work but receives far less than it deserves. He cited the National Travel Survey England 2016 which reported that road travel (including car, bus and cycling) accounted for 69% of all journeys undertaken and a total of 83% of all travelled distance. Despite the overwhelming preference for road transportation the latest ALARM survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance reported a shortfall of £9.31 billion and a necessary 14 years to address the backlog of potholes and bring the local road network up to a reasonable standard. “What is really worrying about the latest survey’s findings is that 24,000 miles of local roads will need repairing next year and one-in-five local roads could fail within the next five years”, explained Gooding. “The ALARM survey is not alarming enough. It’s all too easy for those in Westminster to lose sight that the local road network is the public sector’s most important asset. For those outside the Westminster bubble, for the two thirds who travel by car to work, the availability of a well-maintained road network is an important issue.” Gooding went on to comment that this is also of concern with local councils.  He pointed to the State of Local Government Finance Survey 2018 which shows that while funding for social care and education is high on the agenda of local authorities maintaining the local road network is not in the top list of their issues to be concerned about. “The fact that road maintenance does not seem to be on their radar is very worrying”, he said.

Unfortunately local road maintenance is not as ‘sexy’ as the ribbon cutting ceremony of some impressive new infrastructure project. Somehow road maintenance needs to raise its image. Gooding wondered if emphasising the business case for a well-maintained road network may help, believing that “the more the business world complains, the more Government may listen and if not the future could see us all having to buy 4×4’s in order to navigate our potholed, rutted roads.”

Business is fully aware of the negative impact of the poor state of the road network. Chris Richards, Head of Business Environment at EEF, reported that it was the number one challenge for its members who are calling for “a resilient network providing reliability of journeys for staff and deliveries”. EEF members report that over the last two years the deterioration of the road network has got worse. Richards also focused on the ALARM survey findings that 20% of local roads risk failure in five years. This is of particular concern to those 25% of businesses in a rural local location for whom a well-maintained road network is vital.

He called for the Government to recognise the economic importance of the local road network: “The Government must realise that a well-maintained local road network is an ‘economic enabler’.” A way forward could be taking more funding decisions away from the Westminster bubble and developing more funding streams at a local level. Richards believed that devolution could see local authorities adopting a more strategic approach resulting in better local governance at a local level.

The view from local authorities was provided by Simon Neilson, President of ADEPT and Executive Director – Economy and Environment, Walsall Council. He underlined the role of ADEPT to bring together local authorities, private partnerships and local enterprise organisations to forward issues to government and, touching on the Cinderella theme, called for local roads to have much more prominence particularly in the digital smart debate where innovation can prove that local roads can be much more than just local roads. The need for greater prominence is demonstrated by the Government proposals for the creation of a Major Road Network. Whilst welcoming the recognition of the national importance of strategic local A roads, Neilson pointed out that the proposal overlooks the majority of the local road network and its role in linking together the strategic road network. “The creation and funding of a Major Road Network is to be welcomed”, said Neilson, “But the Government should acknowledge the important role that the local road network has for the national economy. Government needs to include in its Industrial Strategy – its plan to create an economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout the UK – the provision of a well-maintained local road network”.

Interestingly, Neilson welcomed one aspect of the Government austerity programme. “Austerity has helped to focus attention on how to get the best results in the best way”, he said. However, he deplored the obsession with competitive bidding for funding calling it “a waste of resources particularly when ultimately funding is a political decision”.

The final speaker, Angus Bodie, Programme Manager of the Scottish Roads Collaboration Programme, also saw some benefit in austerity as it has resulted in greater collaboration and sharing of resources plus it has “focused on how to deliver efficiently managed roads and identify opportunities”. However, much of this focus is due to necessity with Bodie reporting that in Scotland there has been a 60% reduction in local road maintenance budgets over the last ten years. The subsequent deterioration in the road network has not gone unnoticed with the latest Customer Experience Survey finding that 76% of respondents were dissatisfied with the road network and 68% saying that it has got worse over the last two years.

Believing that the public does not differentiate between the governance and funding of strategic and local roads and that “a road is a road”, Bodie called for the rationalisation of road governance which in Scotland is shared between 32 local road authorities, one national road authority and seven regional transport partners. He also called for ring fencing of road funding possibly by statute devolution. Supporting that call was the fact that the Customer Experience Survey found 28% of respondents ready to pay more tax for better road maintenance.

The resulting Q&A session saw further reference to the Cinderella analogy with delegates wondering if local road maintenance would ever be given a ‘glass slipper’ and if so by what Prince Charming. Prince Charming was certainly not felt to be national government but maybe the new city mayors could be persuaded to come to the ball. However, whoever the Prince Charming is for increased maintenance funding it was agreed that the Cinderella local road network needs to get out of the kitchen and prove that real investment in maintenance is good for road safety, for the economy and for the environment.

NEW FORD SAFETY FEATURES ARE A SAD INDICTMENT OF LOCAL ROAD NETWORK

The launch of the new fourth-generation Ford Focus with technology designed to cope with Britain’s increasingly potholed roads is a sad indictment of the deteriorating state of the local road network. 

The new Focus has a range of new anti-pothole features including a new chassis, independent rear suspension and an innovative continuously controlled damping (CCD) system. Every two milliseconds sensors monitor and adjust the car’s suspension, body, steering and braking to ensure a smooth ride especially over badly maintained roads. Launching the new model this week Ford explained: “The technology helps reduce the impact of driving through potholes, by detecting the edge of a pothole and adjusting the damper so that the wheel doesn’t fall as far into it. Because the tyre and wheel don’t drop as far, they don’t strike the opposite side of the pothole as harshly. The rear suspension can respond even faster, with a signal from the front wheel providing a pre-warning to the rear wheel well before it reaches the pothole.” 

The CCD system is one of a number of new safety features including speed-sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, automatic lane centring and parking assistance. 

Whilst welcoming the new CCD safety feature, Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) said: “It is a sad indictment of the state of our roads that a car manufacturer makes a selling point of anti-pothole safety technology. Unfortunately, the evidence of decades of under-investment in maintaining the local road network and the need for such safety features is very apparent.” 

The RAC has reported that its patrols attended 11% more breakdowns that could be attributed to potholes in the last quarter of 2017 compared to that of 2016.  A total of 2,380 RAC member breakdowns were due to potholed damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs or distorted wheels. Meanwhile, the latest AA-Populus poll of 21,000 drivers found that 52% have had their vehicles damaged as a result of poor road conditions in recent years. Worrying, 85% of those polled say that shoddy roads make them worry about their safety when behind the wheel. 

Also of concern is the high cost to cash strapped local authorities. A series of Freedom of Information requests sent to local authorities by the charity Cycling UK found that English local authorities have paid out £43.3 million in pothole compensation over five years. 

“Ford are to be commended on their new safety features”, said Robinson, “However, it is worrying that our deteriorating local road network make them so necessary.”

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’.