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’.
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.”
With the announcement that the first Level 4 self-driving cars are to be tested on Oxford’s streets next year and then on journeys to-and-from London in 2019 the futuristic vision of automated self-driving cars could be closer to reality than you think. However, the humble pothole could seriously knock that vision off-course believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).
Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic idea. Companies like Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla have already released, or are soon to release, self-driving features that give the car some ability to drive itself. Tech companies are also trying to pioneer the self-driving car. Google has carried out tests of its driverless car prototype on roads in California.
Meanwhile, in the UK trials of self-driving cars have been undertaken in Bristol, Greenwich, Coventry and Milton Keynes and now the DRIVEN consortium, led by Oxbotica, has announced live trials of self-driving Level 4 cars on roads in Oxford and then along the Oxford-to-London corridor. Cars operating at Level 4 autonomy have the capability to drive themselves most of the time without any human input.
Proposed benefits of self-driving cars include increased safety and less accidents and improved usage of road space resulting in less congestion, reduced pollution and more efficient fuel consumption.
However, the utopia of self-driving autonomous cars all equally spaced-out on roads, the potential dangerous impact of human error removed, with the vehicle occupants relaxing as they are driven to their destination could be parked if the road network is not better maintained.
In addition to the need for increased telematic communication and information systems to direct self-driving cars, the road surface must be maintained in top condition for self-driving cars to properly function. The cars will have to be equipped to ‘read the road’ and make allowances for potholes, reduced skid resistance and poor road markings. They will have to replicate the instinctive human ability to almost simultaneously observe, analyse, decide and react. 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 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 the overall local highway budgets for road maintenance have fallen by 16%.
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.”
The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed the Manchester-based initiative where 180 cyclists are trialling the use of a combined bike light and road condition monitor.
Developed by See.Sense, the monitor uses sensor-derived data that make the light flash more brightly and quickly at risky situations such as busy junctions or roundabouts. It also crowdsources data on the road surface condition and records near- miss potential accidents. The aim is to increase safety by collecting road environment and condition data for analysis by CityVerve, Manchester’s Internet of Things (IOT) smart city consortium.
The decline in the state of road surfaces is one of the main factors behind a significant increase in the numbers of cyclists being killed or seriously injured according to the CTC, the national cycling charity. Statistics from the Department for Transport show that in the year ending March 2015 3,410 cyclists were killed or seriously injured compared with 3,383 a year earlier. A further 16,760 cyclists were slightly injured. Commenting on the figures, CTC said that the rise in deaths and injuries was due to an increase in traffic, rising number of cyclists and the continued deterioration in road surfaces.
“This initiative is to be applauded. The data gathered by the cyclists should prove useful in providing a true picture of the state of Manchester’s roads”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive.
He continued: “Cyclists are amongst our most vulnerable road users. For them a deterioration in the road surface can result in serious, life-changing injuries. There is currently a £12.1 billion backlog of local road maintenance. Despite the government providing £6 billion to maintain local roads over the next six years, the backlog, continued cuts in funding and the ever increasing use of roads means that local councils are fighting a losing battle and find it difficult to keep pace with the level of road repairs required.”
Councils are being urged to consider increasing their use of high friction road surfaces following new research that has found that the average thinking time to brake and stop is double than that previously thought. This results in a significant increase in vehicle stopping distances.
The road safety charity Brake asked transport research agency TRL to investigate the time taken by car drivers to perceive, recognise and react to emergency situations. TRL reported that the average thinking time is 1.7 seconds. This is more than double the 0.67 seconds set out in the Highway Code.
Brake have calculated that this means that the average total stopping distance – including thinking and braking distance – is an extra 2.75 car lengths (11 metres) at 30mph and an extra 3.75 car lengths (15 metres) at 40mph, compared with the distances used in the Code. This difference rises to an additional 6.25 car lengths (25 metres) at 70mph.
“The increase in real-time stopping distances emphasises the need to have road surfaces that offer a high level of skid resistance particularly approaching junctions and pedestrian crossings”, said Howard Robinson, chief executive at the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “High friction surfacing is a well proven road surface that makes potentially high risk road locations far safer for both pedestrians and drivers by providing a skid reduction of up to 50 percent. Unfortunately due to perceived concerns over cost and durability many councils have reduced significantly their use of high friction surfacing in recent years”.
Some Councils have decided to use high polished stone value (PSV Asphalt). However, this does not offer the same level of skid resistance as high friction surfacing. A new British Board of Agrement (BBA) report has found the average service life of high friction surfacing is 12 years for cc cold applied systems and 8 years for hot applied systems, when it was previously thought it was 8 and 4.
“The BBA audit has significantly increased the expected average service life for high friction surfacing. This proves the long-term cost effectiveness of using this surface treatment,” said Robinson. “Using high friction surfacing saves lives and money particularly when you consider that the associated accident and investigation costs for non-motorway accidents is calculated to be £1.4 million. Councils must balance the cost of high friction road surfaces against their legal requirement to ensure that roads are safe and the financial cost of accidents.” Also the new Code of Practice – Well Managed Highway Infrastructure – is based on authorities making decisions after assessing risk so in this context the use of high friction surfacing is well aligned with the new code as it reduces the risk of skid related accidents occurring.
He continued: “The reality of the increased emergency stopping distances underlines the need to have a high level of skid resistance at potentially dangerous road junctions and crossings. Councils should reconsider and increase their use of high friction road surfaces.”
Driving in England is set to become more hazardous as roads are set to deteriorate further. New government expenditure statistics report that councils’ funding for highways and transportation is to suffer from further budget cutbacks as councils struggle to balance the books.
The ‘Local Authority Revenue Expenditure and Financing: 2017-18 Budget, England’ produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government, show that spending by local authorities on highways and transportation is set to fall to £4.24 billion in 2017-18 compared with £4.4 billion in 2016-17. This is a drop of 3.7 per cent or £162 million. The reduction comes at a time where it is estimated that the local road network has a £12 billion pothole bill which could reach £14 billion by 2020.
Total revenue expenditure by all local authorities in England is budgeted to be £94.5 billion in 2017-18. This is an increase of 0.4% from £94.1 billion budgeted for 2016-17.
“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”, explained Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “Local highway authorities are working hard to address the problem and last year repaired 1.7 million potholes. However, they are playing a never-ending catch-up game that is made worse by ongoing budget cuts. Without a significant increase in 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.”
Following a two year audit, the RSTA ADEPT guidance ‘Service Life of Road Surface Treatments for Asset Management Purposes’ has been updated to reflect the increased service life for high friction surfacing.
The service life guidance provides an agreed service life of a range of road surface treatment including surface dressing, slurry surfacing and high friction surfacing. It enables highway authorities to undertake proper asset management by providing a recognised baseline for lifecycle planning and asset valuation. A key part of this is awareness of the expected durability and performance of road surfaces that have been correctly specified, designed and installed.
BBA undertook a comprehensive study of 220 high friction road surface sites and found the average service life for cold applied systems to be 12 years and for hot applied systems to be 8 years. Previously the average service life was reported as being 8 years and 4 years respectively. The audit was the first of its kind in terms of scale and independence. It confirmed a much longer life than had been previously perceived.
“The BBA audit has significantly increased the expected average service life for high friction road surfacing. This proves the long-term cost effectiveness of using this surface treatment,” said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association. “The service life guidance provides the performance data necessary for highway authorities to make an informed decision.”
‘Service Life of Road Surface Treatments for Asset Management Purposes’ maybe viewed and downloaded free of charge at www.rsta-uk.ork/publications/
Whilst welcoming the Government’s announcement that £1bn is to be made available for English local councils to tackle congestion hotspots, the Road Surface Treatment Association (RSTA) has questioned the short sightedness of investing in new roads when the funding to maintain the roads that we already have is woefully inadequate.
“A billion pounds spent on tackling local traffic jams will not address the £12 billion gap necessary for essential repair and maintenance of the local roads that we already have”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “Why build new roads just to let them fall into disrepair?”
The funds are part of the £5.8 billion National Roads Fund (NRF) raised from the Vehicle Excise Fund announced by the then Chancellor George Osborne two years ago. Primarily the NRF was aimed at motorways and major A-roads.
“This is not new money. The NRF was announced two years ago and Councils will not have access to the funds until 2020 at the earliest. What is now announced is that some of the fund is to be allocated to the local road network,” said Robinson. “That is to be welcomed but we also need more funding for the rest of the local road network. Current maintenance expenditure on the local road network in the round amounts to little more that 1% per annum of its replacement cost which is far too little and we are talking about maintaining an ageing road network, not new.
The current heatwave means that local highway authorities have one eye on the thermometer and the other one on their road surfaces as the current high temperatures are causing some to melt. With temperatures topping 30C, 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.
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. The response for local highway authorities is to send out the gritters to spread granite dust or sand 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 hot temperatures.”
He continued: “Asphalt is 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. 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. Surface dressings which are used to seal road surfaces and restore skid resistance also now predominantly contain polymer modified binders which will resist softening during periods of hot weather.
“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.