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.”

COUNCILS FORCED TO RANSACK HIGHWAY BUDGETS TO FUND SOCIAL CARE

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has reacted with concern at the findings of new analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) that by 2020 almost 60p in every £1 that people pay in council tax may have to be spent on social care leaving less to fund essential road maintenance. This is up from 41p in 2010/11.

The analysis underlines the strain being placed on council’s budgets as they struggle with ever decreasing government funding. By 2020, local government in England will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 of Revenue Support Grant funding that it received from government to spend in 2015. Almost half of all councils – 168 councils – will no longer receive any of this core central government funding by 2019/20.

Government plans to allow local government as a whole to keep all of its business rates income by the end of the decade are in doubt after the Local Government Finance Bill, which was passing through parliament before the election, was not reintroduced in the Queen’s Speech.

“By 2020 it is predicted that only 5p in every pound of council tax will be spent on roads and street-lighting,” warned Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “The result will be more poorly maintained roads and more portholes.”

He continued: “Local government in England faces a £5.8 billion funding gap by 2020. The Government must recognise that councils cannot continue without sufficient resources that enable adequate funding for all areas of council services.

The local road network is a council’s most important asset yet they are forced to ransack their highways budget to fund other services.”

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”.

SEVERE WINTER PREDICTIONS BAD NEWS FOR POTHOLED ROADS

Predictions of the worse winter for possibly ten years is bad news for those highway authorities who have failed to carry out the necessary maintenance of their road networks.

The Met Office’s forecast for November to January predicts ‘the risk of colder than normal conditions remains a significant possibility’. This is due to the La Nina phenomenon which was behind the big freeze of November 2010 which saw low temperatures of -13C and snowfalls of 2ft in places during the coldest winter on record for Britain. Weather Action predicts that the second half of November will see temperatures plummet to -10C. Meanwhile, Labrokes is offering 4-1 on the coldest November on record with 4/6 on snowfall before the end of the month.

“An early cold start of winter will have a detrimental impact upon our roads and could result in a record number of potholes, particularly where local authority highway departments have not carried out proper road maintenance programmes”, warned Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

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 mean that many highway authorities are unable to carry out planned, comprehensive maintenance and are forced to adopt an expensive patch-and-mend approach.

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 lack of investment in planned maintenance means that in many parts of the country the local road network is not in a fit state to face the impact of a severe extended winter,” pointed out Robinson. “Despite significant budget cuts local authorities are fixing 1.75 million potholes every year. However, only with adequate funding from central government can local authorities undertake the necessary investment in local road long-term maintenance.

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.”