ELECTION MANIFESTO PROMISES END TO POTHOLED ROADS

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) was welcomed the positioning of the poor state of the local road network as a key election issue for the two major political parties.

As a result of decades of under-investment the overall condition of local road network has deteriorated to such an extent that the latest ALARM Survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance reports that one-in-five roads are in such a poor condition that they will need replacing within five years. The survey calculates that it would take ten years and cost £9.8 billion to bring the road network up to scratch.

The Conservatives manifesto has pledged an additional £2 billion over the next four years to repair the road network as part of a National Infrastructure Strategy calling it the ‘biggest ever pot-hole filling programme’. Labour has said it would invest to make ‘neglected local roads safer for drivers’. The other political parties have concentrated on bus and rail services.

“RSTA has long campaigned for the socio-economic importance of a well-maintained road network to be recognised and the necessary levels of funding investment to be provided,” said Mike Harper, RSTA Chief Executive. “We warmly welcomed the inclusion of pledges to improve the road network in the Conservative and Labour manifestos. We hope that these promises are carried through. £2 billion over 4 years – if additional funding – is a substantial and useful amount to invest to make a real change.

However, that change will not come from just ‘filling potholes’ but from implementing proactive maintenance programmes that call upon the vast array of proven road surface treatments that would keep roads in a safe and serviceable condition and avoid potholes from forming in the first place.”

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES’ SILVER LINING FOR BETTER ROAD MAINTENANCE?

The introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs) could result in a better maintained local road network believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Current live trials are pushing the momentum for the future introduction of driverless cars. In South London, driverless taxis car are currently being tested by FiveAL. The trials will test self-driving software on real busy roads in Croydon and Bromley. Trained drivers will be present in case something goes wrong. Also in London, focused on zones 1,2 and 3, Wayve are trialling eight driverless Jaguar I-Pace SUVs. Meanwhile, by the end of this year HumanDrive will have completed a 230 mile journey across the UK to test an AV in real road driving conditions from country roads to motorways.

The future benefits of self-driving cars include less accidents, improved use of road space, reduced congestion and pollution and more efficient fuel consumption. AVs would be equipped to ‘read the road’ and replicate the instinctive human ability to simultaneously observe, analyse, decide and react to every potential different road scenario such as potholes and reduced skid resistance.

“There is a flaw in the plan. The deterioration of the local road network due to decades on under-investment means that that rather than a vision of fast, smooth, well-spaced self-driving cars, the reality could be that poor road surfaces will cause the vehicles to switch to slow safety mode and signal constant warnings of approaching poor road surface conditions”, said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive.

However, Harper believes that the AVs having to go into repetitive safe mode could have a silver lining for local road investment. “Having to go into safe move would highlight the poor condition of the road surface and the need to do something about it. This would help local authorities with their business case for more funding to invest in local roads.”

Sensors fitted to AVs could provide live data on the road condition and so help local authorities not only know where pothole repairs are need but could provide the information necessary for planned programmes of maintenance.

Harper points to a research project being undertaken by Transport Scotland, Transport for West Midlands and Jaguar Land Rover to develop a system that enables AVs to spot and report potholes. Using a platform created by transport analytics firm Inrix, the AV Road Rules system would have a link to local road authorities alerting them to road damage or potholes to enable fast and efficient repair.

He said: “This is where AV’s could have a very useful role in improving the condition of our roads. Their adoption would provide real-time data that could prove valuable in developing and implementing surface dressing and maintenance programmes using a range of surface treatments, at the earliest signs of decay that would prevent potholes from forming in the first place.

AVs are being trialled as the future. This future should be one where potholes are prevented from forming as part of a well-managed, long term approach to road maintenance using the range of innovative, cost-effective surface treatments already available through RSTA members.”

RSTA welcomes Department for Transport’s local road funding commitment

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed the commitment by the Department for Transport (DfT) to make the case to HM Treasury for a long-term funding settlement that addresses the backlog of pothole repairs.

The DfT’s pledge is contained in the Government’s response to the Transport Committee’s report ‘Local road funding and maintenance: filling the gap’ to which the RSTA provided evidence of the results of decades of under-investment in local road maintenance and of the need for an assured long-term funding settlement that enables councils to plan and implement effective programmes of repair and maintenance.

Funding for local highway authorities is via a combination of capital funding from the DfT highways maintenance block plus revenue funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. DfT is to work with government department to develop and submit a business case for a front-loaded long-term funding for local highway maintenance to be included in the future Spending Review.

“We have been calling for such a measure for several years and so this commitment by the DfT is warmly welcomed,” said Mike Harper RSTA chief executive. “The certainty of front-loaded, long-term funding would allow highway engineers and asset managers to make better, longer term decisions, which will lead to a more resilient network, fewer potholes and a lower whole life cost for roads. It would result in more forward planning ensuring that cost effective surface treatments can be planned into a preventative maintenance programmes that prevent potholes from forming in the first place.”

He continued: “We are delighted that our recommendations have been heard by DfT and central government and we look forward to continuing to work with DfT to promote the innovative and collaborative thinking that will make maintenance funding go much further.”

SKID RESISTANCE OF LOCAL ROADS NEEDS INVESTIGATING

The skid resistance levels of over quarter of the local road network is reported to be questionable and needs further investigation according to the latest figures from the Department for Transport. In London this rises to over half of all local roads.

According to the latest Department for Transport Road Conditions in England statistics, over the 3 years period 2016 to 2019, 28% of the local road network has questionable skid resistance levels. This is an increase of 2% over the period 2013 to 2016. The London Boroughs had the highest proportion of the road network requiring further investigation, at 53%. This has increased from 45% from the period 2013 -2016. The skidding resistance figures do not necessarily reflect actual safety levels on the roads but do indicate sites where further investigation is required.

“The increase in the number of roads requiring skid resistance is worrying,” said Mike Harper, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “Reduced skidding resistance can mean increase the chance of accidents especially at approaches to road junctions and traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and roundabouts as well as road stretches that have high accidents levels. Local authorities need to ensure that these potential accident black spots are made as safe as possible by ensuring that they are investigated, properly surfaced and maintained”.

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) is calling for greater use of high friction surfacing (HFS) and other surface treatments to improve skid resistance. Furthermore, the Association warns that deterioration in skid resistance could be an early indicator that the road as a whole needs intervention.

There are a number of cost-effective road surface techniques that can be used including surface dressing, retexturing or high friction surfacing.  Surface dressing not only restores skid resistance but also protects the road surface against water ingress and pothole formation. Retexturing can improve skid resistance with minimal disruption to the road user as it can be carried out at high speed at any time of year.

Harper pointed out that: “Highway budgets have been under immense pressure over the last few years. However, in most cases skid resistance can be restored without major resurfacing works. For roads in good condition, retexturing can restore both the macro and micro texture. Surface dressing can restore skid resistance and protect the road surface against water ingress and pothole formation. High friction surfacing significantly increases skid resistance and reduces braking distance and is particularly suited at high risk road sites. With skid accident reduction rates of over 50% the success of high friction surfacing speaks for itself.”

He continued: “Over the last few years there has been a decline in the amount of high friction surfacing being installed on our road networks. At the same time we have seen the numbers of fatal worryingly to start to rise slightly in recent years – up to 1784 in 2018, compared to 1754 in 2012* We must make sure that we don’t forget the lessons that led to the UK having some of the world’s safest roads, and re-double our efforts to reduce accidents year-on-year by using proven road surface technology.”

*Department for Transport; Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2018 annual report; 2019

PREDICTIONS OF NEW BEAST FROM EAST IS BAD NEWS FOR ROADS

Predictions that Britain is facing a new ‘Beast from the East’ could prove to be bad news for those highway authorities who have not carried out the necessary maintenance of the road network warns the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Researchers at University College London have made one of the longest-range UK weather forecasts and predicted that January – February 2020 could be one of the coldest winters for 30 years with an average temperature of 3.9C, which is 0.5C below the 1981-2010 average for the same period.

“A severe winter would have a detrimental impact upon our roads and result in a significant increase in the number of potholes, particularly where roads have not been properly maintained or re-surfaced,” said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive.

Potholes are caused by water or snow freezing in cracks in the road surface. The expansion of ice results in damage and breaking up of the road surface which is made worse by repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Budget constraints over the last 10 years, mean that many highway authorities have not had assured levels of funding for planned, comprehensive maintenance and are forced to adopt an expensive patch-and-mend approach.

“Years of under-investment by successive governments has resulted in a decline in proactive maintenance techniques such as surface treatments, where roads are treated before they get to a critical condition, by sealing the surface against water ingress and thus preventing potholes forming.  This is what highway authorities should be doing to comply with the new code of practice, Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure. The industry constantly counts how many potholes have been repaired, but in reality we should be stopping them forming in the first place. The resultant patch-and-mend mentality of repairing potholes reactively is a very expensive solution explained Harper. “Whilst the government has provided some much welcomed additional ad-hoc funding there are over 40,000 local roads that are in such a poor structural condition that they will need to be replaced within 5 years.”

Harper called for a new approach from both national and local government: “What is needed from national government is a 5 year settlement for the UK’s Local Road Network, similar to that already in place, and delivering benefits, for the Strategic Road Network.  Such a new approach would provide that assured funding that allows local highway authorities to plan and implement the programmes of maintenance that would enable roads to withstand the impact of severe winters and ever increasing traffic volumes.

SPENDING REVIEW INCREASE FOR LOCAL AUTHORITY SERVICES MAY HALT COUNCILS RAIDING HIGHWAY BUDGETS

Although disappointed that there was no mention of increased funding to address the deteriorating local road network, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed today’s Spending Review that delivered a funding package of more than £3.5 billion for local authority services next year.

“This is the biggest year-on-year increase in real terms for local authority spending in ten years. We hope that it means councils will not have to raid highway maintenance budgets so much in the future in order to fund social care and other services”, said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive. “Councils are being forced to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and as road maintenance budgets are not ring fenced this has made them an easy target.”

Cuts in highway maintenance budgets has resulted in a deteriorating local road network riddled with potholes. According to the latest AIA ALARM Surve, the bill to restore the road network to an appropriate standard is £9.79 billion.

To address this, the RSTA is calling for the investment of 2p per litre taken from the existing fuel taxation, rather than make a fuel tax cut as the Prime Minister has recently proposed.  This could provide an additional £1.5 billion per annum for road maintenance, in addition to the current spend on maintaining local roads, which is currently around £1 billion. This extra funding could make a significant difference and start working through the backlog. Furthermore, RSTA believes that there should be a 5 year funding settlement for local roads, as is the case for the strategic road network. This would enable highway managers to implement long-term programmes of road surfacing and maintenance based on assured funding decisions.

“The Chancellor has recognised the need for increase in social care spending. He now needs to consider a long-term funding mechanism to rebuild the local road network after many years of depleted highway budgets,” said Harper.

INVEST PROPOSED FUEL DUTY CUT IN ROAD MAINTENANCE

To benefit social well-being and the national economy, the monies from cutting fuel duty should be spent on repairing the road network.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is considering a two pence cut in the current 57.9p fuel duty. The proposal is the latest sign that the Government is gearing up for a Brexit Election later this year and follows voter-friendly announcements on schools and the NHS.

It is estimated that the cut would cost the Treasury £1.5 billion. This argues the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) should be spend on investing in the repair and maintenance of the deteriorating local road network.

“There are 35 million drivers in the UK. Most are voters who are fed-up with potholes and the damage that they do to their vehicles,” said Mike Harper, RSTA Chief Executive. Decades of under investment by successive governments has resulted in a deteriorating local road network riddled with potholes. The bill to restore the road network to a decent standard is £9.79 billion. Investing the £1.5 billion from the cut in fuel duty in road maintenance could make a significant difference.”

RSTA has long called for the investment of an additional 2p per litre taken from the existing fuel duty to fix the plague of potholes. In addition, RSTA believes that there should be a ring-fenced 5 year funding settlement for local roads, as is the case for the strategic road network, so that highway managers can make long term decisions about how to best manage their pavement assets with planned programme of road maintenance rather than reactive patch-and-mend pothole repair.

“Boris Johnson wishes to be remembered as the prime minister who sorts out Brexit. He should also consider being the prime minister who fixed our roads by directing the fuel duty to where it really should go: back into the road network,” said Harper.

WORKFORCE TRAINING A MUST FOR RECEIPT OF INCENTIVE FUNDS

Local authorities in England may have to provide evidence of their highways staff competence and training as part of their bids for road maintenance incentive funding in 2020 as DfT intend to instigate the “audit and review” process for the self-assessment process. With the self-assessment questionnaires due to be presented to the Department for Transport (DfT) early 2020, the launch of the RSTA’s autumn road training programme is well-timed.

As part of their self-assessment questionnaires bids for 2020/21 road maintenance incentive fund, local authorities need to provide data to demonstrate which Band they are in. The higher the Band the higher their share of the available funds with those in Band 3 receiving their full share, Band 2 receiving 50% and Band 1 just 10%.  DfT will not necessarily want to see the supporting evidence from every local highway authority, but it may undertake sample audits for the first time. The completed self-assessment questionnaires must be submitted by February 2020. Failure to submit a questionnaire will mean that the local authority will receive nothing from the incentive fund (which makes up 20% of the traditional highways budget for most local authorities

For many local highways authorities ongoing budget constraints has seen significant cutbacks in their training budgets. This is despite their full appreciation of the importance of having a well-trained and competent workforce and the fact that having such a workforce is an important element of the Highways Sector Scheme 13 whereby the workforce competence must be proven. The impact of training cuts is further compounded by many experienced highway engineers and operatives having been made redundant or have retired and not been replaced.

Against this background is the simple fact that if road maintenance is to be correctly carried out then a well-trained and competent workforce is essential for improved health and safety, quality of work, and increased productivity.

To assist local authorities meet their training needs, RSTA has developed a comprehensive training programme specific to the road maintenance sector. The programme offers training in surface dressing, slurry surfacing, and high-friction surfacing, as well as a series of ‘highways maintenance techniques’ training days held throughout the UK that are aimed at providing asset managers with knowledge of a wide range of surface treatments for optimising the life performance and reducing the whole life cost of asphalt pavements. Courses are linked to Sector Scheme 13 for the supply and application of road surface treatments and assessment is also available for operatives at NVQ Level 2, NVQ level 3 for Foremen and for supervisors at NVQ Level 4.

In addition, RSTA is working closely with local authority organisations such as LCRIG to deliver specific training events that facilitate best value through collaboration by allowing local authorities to train together. The RSTA is also collaborating with Xais Asset Management to provide skid policy courses for local authorities.

Mike Harper, chief executive at the RSTA commented: “In recent years, we have encouraged local authorities to collaborate and get engineers together from neighbouring authorities as well as their own staff.  We can provide training courses within a local authorities own premises for a fixed cost. Not only does this save on associated travel and hotel costs by taking the course to the learners, but by local authorities grouping together to get higher numbers of attendees for a one off fixed costs, the cost per learner may be more than halved, making those training budgets go further.”

He continued: “The inclusion of workforce competence and training within the incentive fund self-assessment underlines the essential role that training has in delivering cost efficient road maintenance. This is not lost on the DfT who very keen to see local authorities collaborating with each other and the supply chain. The RSTA autumn training programme is an excellent opportunity to do just that.”