The Many Hats of Road Asset Management
Owen Jenkins, Operational Manager – Infrastructure, Cardiff Council
Asset management is the art and science of making the right decisions. For the highways, asset management means the systematic process of maintaining, upgrading and operating the network using sound business practice and economic rationale. Easier said than done when you consider that in order to succeed the highway asset manager must wear many hats in order to meet a wide range of expectations.
Firstly, there is the national government hat. Government is placing greater pressure on local highway authorities to improve the efficiencies and accountability of highway management. Increasingly this will mean formal accounting and reporting requirements on how they manage their assets. At a local level, there is the local councillor hat. Local councillors must be educated and persuaded of the need to invest in highway management against often competing budgetary demands. Continuing at local level, there is the need to meet the demands and expectations of the road using public. At industry level, and this is one where RSTA members can be of considerable assistance, there is the contractor hat which calls for knowledge of innovative, cost-effective solutions and for experience and expertise of successful best practice and installation. All these hats must be worn by the road asset manager in order to develop and implement an asset management plan.
The need for these hats is considerable for it is set against a potential loop of doom of shrinking budgets means a failure to meet needs which results in a failure of legitimacy and so further budgetary cuts and so on and so on. This loop must be broken by adopting asset management planning as a way to prove value for money in the delivery of highway maintenance. This involves the development, adoption and review of long-term, best value highway policies that are focused upon the need of the users and the community as well as on budget availability. Throughout this process must be an efficient and consistent approach in the collection and processing of data on highway inventory, condition and status, on-going review of risk management and the continued innovation in the procurement of highway maintenance contracts and delivery of cost-effective, long-term solutions.
So many hats. But when one considers that for Cardiff alone the highway network as an asset is valued at a gross replacement cost of £2.71 billion (including all structures, roads, pavements, barriers and streetlights) then the highway network must be recognised for what it is: the largest single asset that a local authority has. For this alone it must have a long-term whole-life cycle management programme.
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