LOCAL DEMOCRACY: BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU WISH FOR

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed proposals to provide local residents with more powers to veto or approve plans that affect their communities, but warns that when it comes to the issue of potholes the government should be careful of what it wishes for.

The proposals form part of the new Civic Society Strategy launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It calls for an ‘Innovation in Democracy’ pilot scheme in six regions across the country. This will trial creative ways for people to take a more direct role in decisions that affect their local area. This could include Citizens’ Juries or mass participation in decision-making on community issues via an online poll or app. These issues could include approval of new housing developments, closure of libraries or spending more to fix potholes.

“Throughout the UK local residents are already very vocal via social and local media about the poor state of repair of their roads. The government should be careful that formalising these concerns via local authority polls would underline the extent of the lack of road maintenance funding provided to local highway authorities”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive.

He continued: “Increased community involvement is to be welcomed but to be meaningful it must be supported by the necessary funding. Voters would be further disenchanted if poll findings for greater investment in local roads was met with ‘ah yes but we don’t have the budget’.”

ROAD INDUSTRY WELCOMES MP’S CALLS FOR LOCAL ROADS TO HAVE HEATWAVE RESILIENCE

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed calls from MPs for government to examine the ability of local authorities to ensure that the local road network is resilient enough to withstand prolonged heatwaves and not melt.

In its report ‘Heatwaves: adapting to climate change’, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee highlighted this summer’s issue of melting roads across the UK. It pointed out that previous heatwaves had a significant road maintenance cost. The heatwave of 2003 cost £49.6 million of necessary road repairs, £3.6 million of which was in Oxfordshire alone.

Most roads will not begin to soften until they hit a temperature of around 50C. However, even a sunny day in the 20Cs can be enough to generate 50C on the ground as the dark asphalt road surface absorbs a lot of heat and this builds up during the day with the hottest period between noon and 5pm. With temperatures regularly reaching the high 20Cs, the bitumen in some road surfaces may soften and rise to the top. This makes the road surface sticky and more susceptible to pressure loads from heavy vehicles resulting in surface ridging and rutting.

The response from local highway authorities is to send out gritters to spread granite dust to absorb the soft bitumen and so stabilise the road surface and make it less sticky.

Following a heatwave in 1995, the road industry introduced a new asphalt specification introducing the use of polymer modified binders in hot rolled asphalt (HRA). These polymers raise the asphalt road surface softening point to around 80C which prevents it from softening under extreme hot weather. Other asphalt products such as thin surface course systems also normally contain polymer modified binders.

However, such modified asphalts tend to be more expensive and are generally only used on heavily-trafficked roads such as the motorway and trunk network of which only 50% is surfaced with the most heat resilient material. The percentage of local roads treated with heat resilient asphalts is much less at an estimated 5%.

 “MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee recognised that very few car journeys start and end on the strategic road network. It is the local road network on which the vast majority of journeys are made yet the heat resilience of this network is clearly unable to cope with prolonged high summer temperatures,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “Local highway resources do not have the funding to address the problems of freezing in winter and the resultant potholes let alone the repair of roads melting during the summer.”

 He continued: “Today, most road surface dressings used to seal road surfaces and restore skid resistance contain polymer modified binders which resist softening during periods of hot weather. Unfortunately the continued lack of investment in the local road network and the increased pressure on local authorities’ reduced budgets means a significant reduction in planned programmes of surface dressing road maintenance. The result is a road network unable to cope with either winter or summer weather.”

AFTER THE HEATWAVE, SLIPPERY ROADS WARNING

Forecasted rain this week could make roads slippery after the heatwave warns the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

There are two reasons why motorists should slow down and drive with care on roads that are wet after a heatwave. Firstly, during periods of prolonged hot weather the bitumen in asphalt roads becomes more mobile and can sometime ‘bleed’ through to the surface. This reduces the texture depth and wet skidding resistance. In extreme conditions, like those experienced this summer, councils will apply grit to the road surface to increase its skid resistance. Secondly, dry roads often have a build-up of rubber and oil particles. When it rains these substances can mix with water and create a greasy layer that can become very slippery.

“Wet roads after a prolonged hot, dry period can become slippery. In addition to ensuring that their tyres are in good condition and properly inflated, motorists should slow down and drive with care”, warned Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

He continued: “Just like the freezing and ice of the winter, summer’s high temperatures underline how essential it is to ensure that roads are maintained to a correct standard. Unfortunately, continued cutbacks to highway budgets means that councils cannot afford the necessary programmes of long-term maintenance and surface dressing to ensure pothole-free, skid resistant roads.”

RECORD LEVELS OF TRAFFIC FORCED TO USE DETERIORATING ROAD NETWORK

New Department for Transport (DfT) statistics underline the unprecedented demands being placed on our deteriorating local road network which, due to decades of under investment, is facing a £9.3 billion backlog of pothole repairs and is simply not up to the job reports the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

According to the recently published ‘Road Traffic Estimates: Great Britain 2017’, the total number of vehicle miles travelled grew by 1.3% in 2017 to 327.1 billion up from 323.7 in 2016. DfT predicts that this could reach 425.1 billion by 2040, a further 30% increase in traffic. This will have a significant impact on the condition of our poorly maintained roads.

Since 2016, traffic on ‘A’ road has increased 1.1% and by 1.4% on minor roads. Combined, the local network carried 66% of all traffic. Yet, despite this the motorway network receives 52 times more funding than local roads.

Despite the significant increase in traffic the level of funding investment to ensure that the local road network can cope is woefully inadequate. The latest Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM), published by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, found that the rate of deterioration of the local road network is accelerating. 1 in 5 roads may need to be replaced within the next 5 years, it would cost £9.31 billion and take 14 years to bring the local road network up to a reasonable standard.

“As traffic levels increase so do the demands being placed on an under-funded road network”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “The lack of adequate assured funding for local road maintenance has resulted in a network where one in five roads, a significant 20%, may need replacing by 2023 – and that is just to cope with current traffic levels.”

“The government’s own figures show how the vast majority of traffic uses the local road network. They underline the need for greater investment in long-term programmes of preventative road maintenance rather than expensive patching-up,” explained Robinson who pointed out that it costs only £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs an average £52m2 to repair potholes.

LOCAL COUNCILS WILL HAVE EVEN LESS MONEY FOR ESSENTIAL ROAD MAINTENANCE

The severe funding pressures being faced by local government will mean even less money for essential maintenance and repair of the local road network warns the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA)

RSTA’s warning comes as a new report was launched by the Local Government Association (LGA) at its annual conference. The report shows that by 2020 local authorities will have faced a reduction in core funding of nearly £16 billion since 2010 and that by 2025 councils in England will face a funding gap of £7.8 billion

“This funding gap could have serious consequences for spending on the local road network”, warned Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “For decades there has been a lack of investment in local road maintenance. With continued budget restrictions local authorities are having to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and are cutting back on highway expenditure in order to fund other council services

Local highway authorities are working hard to address the problem and last year, according to the LGA, they repaired a pothole every 15 seconds. However, they are playing a never-ending catch-up game that is made worse by ongoing budget cuts. Without a significant increase in local government funding our roads will go from bad to worse.

Robinson believes that as the road network is the country’s most important infrastructure asset it should have a realistic level of investment that is ring-fenced for spending on highways maintenance: “Highway budgets should not be dipped into to fund other council services. We need to have real, long-term assured funding that allows highway authorities to undertake planed, cost efficient programme of maintenance and not expensive emergency repairs.”

RSTA is calling for a number of actions to address the situation. These include allowing all local roads to receive funds from the Vehicle Excise Duty. Currently, the monies raised are only available for motorways and A roads. It addition, up to £1 billion a year could be found to address the £9.3 billion backlog of local road pothole repairs by investing just 2p a litre from the existing fuel duty. Furthermore, local highway budgets should be ring-fenced to prevent their being used to fund other council services.

WHY ARE OUR ROADS MELTING?

June’s heatwave has seen temperatures topping 30C in many parts of the country. This has caused some roads to melt. With the Met Office predicting that temperatures for July and August could be hotter than average more roads could find that more road surfaces are getting soft and sticky.

Most roads will not begin to soften until they hit a temperature of around 50C. However, even a sunny day in the 20Cs can be enough to generate 50C on the ground as the dark asphalt road surface absorbs a lot of heat and this builds up during the day with the hottest period between noon and 5pm. With temperatures regularly reaching the high 20Cs, the bitumen in some road surfaces may soften and rise to the top. This makes the road surface sticky and more susceptible to pressure loads from heavy vehicles resulting in surface ridging and rutting.

The response from local highway authorities is to send out the gritters to spread granite dust to absorb the soft bitumen and so stabilise the road surface and make it less sticky.

“Drivers may be bemused to see the gritters out in the summer when they are usually spreading grit and salt during the winter”, said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association. “However, this is effective standard practice for keeping a road surface safe during extreme prolonged hot temperatures.”

He continued: “Asphalt is a bit like chocolate – it melts and softens when it’s hot and goes hard and brittle when it’s cold – it doesn’t maintain the same strength all year round.”

Following a heatwave in 1995, the road industry introduced a new asphalt specification introducing the use of polymer modified binders in hot rolled asphalt (HRA). These polymers raise the asphalt road surface softening point to around 80C which prevents it from softening under extreme hot weather. Other asphalt products such as thin surface course systems also normally contain polymer modified binders.

However, such modified asphalts tend to be more expensive and are generally only used on heavily-trafficked roads. Robinson estimates that less than 5% of all the UK’s road surfaces contain polymer modified asphalt. On the other hand most surface dressings which are used to seal road surfaces and restore skid resistance nowadays predominantly contain polymer modified binders which will resist softening during periods of hot weather.

“Localised melting of some roads is not surprising during this heatwave, but they can be quickly treated and revert back to normal once temperatures decline,” said Robinson.

DETERIORATING SKID RESISTANCE CALLS FOR GREATER USE OF HIGH FRICTION SURFACING

With the skid resistance levels of over a quarter of the local road network reported to be questionable and requiring further investigation, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) is calling for greater use of high friction surfacing (HFS).

The latest Department for Transport Road Conditions in England reports that, over the three year period 2014/15 to 2016/17, 27% of the local road network has questionable skid resistance levels. The London Boroughs had the highest proportion of the road network requiring further investigation, at 48%. Skidding resistance figures do not necessarily reflect safety levels on the network but do indicate sites where further investigation is required.

“The greatest potential for increased accidents due to reduced skidding resistance is at road junctions approaches to traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and roundabouts as well as road stretches that have high accidents levels”, advised Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “In addition to regularly surface dressing their roads, local authorities need to ensure that these potential accident hot spots are made as safe as possible with the use of high friction surfacing”.

High friction surfacing is a proven road surface treatment that increases skid resistance and reduces braking distance thereby reducing the potential for accidents. With a skid accident reduction of over 50% its success speaks for itself: it saves lives and money. Treatment with high friction surfacing makes potentially high risk road locations far safer for both drivers and pedestrians and the financial savings of achieving this are considerable. With the associated accident and investigation costs of non-motorway fatal accidents calculated to be £1.4million, the application of high friction surfacing offers considerable financial value.

However, despite the benefits of high friction surfacing over the last few years there has been a serious decline in its use due in large part to local authorities’ misplaced concerns about service life, durability and increasing costs. “When installed correctly HFS has an average service life of 8 – 12 years. With regards to cost, since the 1980’s the cost of HFS has been able to be balanced against a broader savings strategy with allocated accident investigation and prevention budgets proving the investment savings from high friction surfacing against the cost of accidents and casualties”, said Robinson.

RSTA has developed ADEPT endorsed industry best practice guidance and approved by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation and the Institute of Highways Engineers approved training courses to ensure best practice installation of this potentially life-saving road surface treatment.

ADDITIONAL POTHOLE REPAIR FUNDING TOO LITTLE AND TOO LATE

Whilst welcoming the additional £100million pothole funding to help repair roads suffering from  this year’s severe winter, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) believes that in reality it is ‘too little too late’.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has provided the funding following the freeze and thaw of the ‘Beast from the East’ that caused significant damage to the condition of the local road network, which due to the lack of investment in ongoing programmed maintenance, is in a poor state of repair. The extra funding is for English councils only as funding for road maintenance in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland is the responsibility of their devolved governments

“Any additional funding to address the overall poor condition of our local road network is to be welcomed”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “However, it is only a short-term fix for quick patching up of potholes. It does nothing to address the £9.3 billion necessary to bring our road network up to a decent standard. It does nothing to address the fact that one-in-five of our local roads are predicted to structurally fail within the next five years according to the recent ALARM survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance.”

He continued: “The fundamental problem is that councils do not have the long-term funding to undertake comprehensive maintenance. Well maintained roads will perform better during extreme weather.

Robinson pointed out that the government needs to understand that proper long-term preventative maintenance offers far better value than short-term patch-and-mend. He said: “Whilst pothole repairs will always be necessary, it costs upwards of £2 m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs on average £54 m2 to repair potholes. “Providing local authorities with the right level of funding in the first to place to enable them to properly maintain the road network would be more cost effective than emergency ad hoc pothole funding,” he said.

THE GREAT MOTORISTS’ RIP-OFF

Motorists provide the Treasury with over £50 billion every year in taxation yet only £2 billion of that is invested into maintaining the local road network. The impact of the lack of investment is a deteriorating road network that costs motorists a further £1.7 billion a year in repair bills due to the damage caused by potholes.

“The amount of taxation paid by motorists dwarfs the amount spent on local road maintenance and then they spend almost another £2 billion on repairing the vehicle damage caused by the road network that they are funding. Motorists have long felt that they are ‘cash cows’ but these figures show that they are being ripped-off”, said Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

According to the RAC Foundation, the £50 billion motorists’ tax bill includes a combination of Vehicle Excise Duty and Fuel Duty – some £6 billion and £28 billion was raised in 2016 – plus £12.2 billion on buying, running and using their vehicles (£3.84 billion of VAT on vehicle purchases, £5.64 billion of VAT of fuels and £2.72 billion of VAT raised through road users buying other motoring-related goods and services. In addition, £3.7 billion is raised by motorists being taxed for the use of company cars and the car insurance premium tax raises an annual £560 million a year.

Despite receiving this substantial tax income, the government only spends a fraction of that amount in ensuring that the local road network is in good condition. The lack of investment means that the latest Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM survey reports that one-in-five roads could structurally fail within the next five years and that an immediate £9.3 billion is needed to bring the local road network up to a satisfactory condition.

The impact of deteriorating road surfaces is underlined by a new survey from WhoCanFixMyCar.com that calculated drivers spend £1.7 billion on vehicle repairs caused by potholes.

RSTA is calling for a number of actions to address the situation. These include allowing all local roads to receive funds from Vehicle Excise Duty. Currently, the monies raised are only available for motorways and A roads. Inject £1 billion a year to address the £9.3 billion backlog of local road pothole repairs by investing just 2p a litre from the existing fuel duty. Furthermore, local highway budgets should be ring-fenced. 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.

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.