INCREASED TRAFFIC DEMONSTRATES THE NEED FOR WELL MAINTAINED ROADS

New traffic level estimated from the Department for Transport (DfT) underlined the need for greater investment to improve the condition of the UK’s road network.

Provisional road traffic estimates for Great Britain for the year ending September 2016 show that traffic levels rose by 1.4% to a new record level that is 1.8% higher than the previous peak in September 2007. It total, there were 320 billion vehicles miles travelled on the road network between September 2015 and September 2016.

“Decades of under investment in road maintenance means that our network, in particular the local road network, is unable to cope with the amount of traffic that uses it. This is confirmed by the unacceptable high levels of deterioration and potholes”, said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “Over £12 billion is necessary to bring the condition of the local road network up to an acceptable standard. The ongoing severe budgetary pressures on local authorities means that they unable to commit to the necessary investment for programmes of long-term road maintenance.”

He continued: “These traffic figures should be a wake-up call for the Chancellor. His forthcoming Autumn Statement should include real funding investment in road maintenance to ensure that the network is in a fit state to cope with the increased traffic pressures”.

ROADS INDUSTRY WELCOMES MAJOR ROAD NETWORK PROPOSALS

“At last a joined-up approach to our road network”, was the response from the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) welcoming the publication of the Rees Jeffrey’s Report “A Major Road Network for England”.

The report calls for the recognition of an 8,000 mile Major Road Network (MRN) that includes the 4,200 miles of the Strategic Road Network (SRN) of motorways and trunk roads run by Highways England and a further 3,800 miles of strategic local authority controlled A roads. Together they represent 4 per cent of England’s roads that carry 43 per cent of its traffic.

Given the strategic importance of the MRN, the report believes that there should be equal recognition between the SRN and local authority A roads. Both should have the same planning and funding certainty. Currently, the government has committed a £15 billion five year plan of investment in the SRN. Local authorities who are responsible for 98% of England’s roads have no such certainty. They have had to cut road maintenance as part of the government’s austerity programme and face complex capital funding arrangements without any certainty of five-year commitments. The result is a £12 billion back log of potholes and essential repairs.

“Central government seems to be unable to understand that the local road network is the essential link to the strategic road network. The establishment of a properly programmed and funded major road network is the joined up approach that our road network needs”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Robinson welcomed the calls for funding from the National Road Fund to be made available for both strategic roads and local roads and for greater collaboration between Highways England and local authorities via initiatives such as sub-national transport bodies.

“A well-maintained national and regional road network that has a committed programme of investment is essential for the country’s economic and social well-being. The report from Rees Jeffrey’s offers a cohesive alternative to the mismatched funding between the SRN and strategically important A roads”, said Robinson.

AUTUMN STATEMENT SHOULD MAKE THE CASE FOR LOCAL ROAD MAINTENANCE

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has called upon the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, to use his forthcoming Autumn Statement to demonstrate something that his predecessors have failed to do: an understanding that good local road maintenance is essential for the social-economic wellbeing of the country.

The failure to appreciate the true socio-economic worth of a well-maintained road network is underlined by the decades of under investment that has left a legacy of £12 billion worth of potholed roads in need of investment. Central government seems to be unable to understand that the local road network is the essential link to the national road network, rail stations, ports and airports. It is also the main means of access to people’s homes, to schools, hospitals and businesses.

Hammond should start by using his Autumn Statement to correct the anomaly that local roads will not receive any monies from the new vehicle excise duty road fund announced by the previous Chancellor, George Osborne.

The new fund, to be introduced in 2017, is only for trunk roads and motorways. It will not be available for local roads despite their representing 98% of the UK road network.

“Decades of under-investment that has left our local roads in a continuing state of decline,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “The Chancellor should demonstrate that he understands the importance of the local road network and announce that the road fund should be used to invest in both the national and local road network.”

The Government is committed to providing £6 billion from 2015 to 2021 for local road maintenance however over the same period drivers in England will provide over £30 billion in vehicle excise duty. “The huge discrepancy between what motorists pay in tax and what is spent on maintaining the roads that they pay tax to drive on should be addressed,” said Robinson.

Cash strapped local highway authorities are doing what they can and 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. This has long been the logical economic argument forwarded by the road maintenance industry. It costs only £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs an average £57m2 to repair one pothole.

“The case for funding a well-maintained road network is strong. The Chancellor should use his Autumn Statement to make that case,” said Robinson. “If the Chancellor wants a positive economic legacy then he should provide real levels of investment in local roads and work with local authorities to develop long-term funding mechanisms that enable the implementation of programmes of planned maintenance.”

NEW REGULATIONS FOR HARD HATS COMES IN FORCE IN JANUARY 2017

Highways England will switch its construction and maintenance contractors over to a new industry recognised colour-coded hard hat scheme from the start of 2017.

Four colours of hard hat will reflect workers roles and level of responsibility on site in a bid to make sites safer.

The new standard, which will see operatives wearing white hard hats and supervisors black, was launched by industry trade body BuildUK four months ago.

It also ends the reign of green and yellow hard hats on the country’s highways.

Highways England is adopting the scheme as part of its ‘Raising the bar’ health and safety initiative to identify best practice, raise standards and improve supply chain engagement.

A spokesman for Highways England said that the system would foster pride in the wearing of a specific hat colour as a badge of responsibility.

It would also reduce costs as companies will no longer have to buy different coloured helmets for different jobs.

On small sites where  a colour standard may be impractical Highways England is advising using a default colour of white as is general current practice.

PROPER ROAD MAINTENANCE A HIGHER PRIORITY THAN HI-TECH ADVICE

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has questioned the government’s launch of a £2 million fund to allow English councils to adopt intelligent transport technologies. RSTA believes that getting the basics right, such as a addressing the deteriorating local road network, should take priority.

The Department for Transports (DfT) has invited councils to bid for a share of the fund to invest in new technology to enhance the experience of driving. Bids between £30,000 and £300,000 for co-operative intelligence funding are invited, with councils being expected to provide at least 5% of the project costs. Councils have until 30th September 2016 to submit their bids with the winners being revealed in November and schemes expected to be completed by March 2018.

“Our local road network needs £12 billion just to bring it up to standard. The best way for the driving experience to be enhanced is for proper investment in the maintenance and repair of the local road network, not in technology announcing changing weather or traffic conditions,” said Howard Robinson RSTA chief executive. “Although we welcome any initiative that offers advice to motorists concerning changeable driving conditions, ensuring a well-maintained and safe road network must be the first priority.”

POTHOLE CAR DAMAGE DOUBLES OVER TEN YEARS

A new survey from the RAC has found that the number of cars damaged by potholes has more than doubled over the last ten years. This, believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA), is proof that the government is failing to provide the levels of investment necessary to bring the local road network up to an adequate standard.

The survey found that 21,500 cars rescued by the RAC over the last 12 months had suffered damage where the main contributory factor was potholes. This is a 126 per cent increase over the numbers of cars rescued in 2006. The damage includes broken suspension springs, distorted wheels and damaged shock absorbers. Reporting on the survey, David Bizley, RAC chief engineer said: “Our analysis paints a very disappointing picture which unequivocally confirms what most road users already know, which is that the condition of our local roads has deteriorated drastically in the last decade.”

Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive said: “The doubling in the number of cars damaged by potholes is proof that the decades of under-investment in our local road network is not being addressed. There is a £12 billion backlog of potholes repairs but the funding for local road maintenance is £6 billion for all of 2015- 2021. This and the occasional ad hoc funding boost, such as the recent government’s trumpeted additional £250 million, is simply not enough to address our deteriorating local road network.

Cash-strapped local authorities are doing the best that they can but faced with ever-dwindling resources it is often one step forward and two-steps back.”

NATIONAL DEFINITION OF POTHOLE CALLED FOR

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has called for a national statutory standard definition of what comprises a pothole. It warns that without such a standard, cash-strapped local authorities may move the goal posts in order to try to save money by not repairing smaller potholes.

RSTA’s warning follows the decision taken earlier this year by Perth and Kinross Council to redefine its classification of a pothole. The Council has declared that potholes must now be 60mm deep – an increase of 50 percent from its previous 40mm classification – before they are repaired and filled.

“Local authorities are under immense financial pressure. However, they have a duty of care to ensure that roads are properly maintained. This, they recognise and they work hard to meet that obligation but the ongoing cutbacks in local authority budgets means that that they may move the road maintenance goal posts in order to save money,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Although there is widespread adoption of the ‘Well-Maintained Highways Code of Practice’ 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 7.5cm. In Warwickshire, a pothole of up to 5cm is not considered to be hazardous and will only be repaired as part of routine maintenance six months after being reported. Potholes up to 10cm will take up to 28 days to be repaired. However, in Trafford a pothole warrants repair at 4cm in depth. 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 Robinson. “Under the Road Traffic Act 1980 all local highway authorities have a duty of care to maintain their road network but there is no national definition or agreement as to when a pothole is a pothole.”

He continued: “A national definition of at what depth and width a defect is recognised as being a pothole would enable a consistent road maintenance risk assessment, intervention and repair approach.”