Tag Archives: potholes

WINTER GRITTERS REPAIR SUMMER’S MELTING ROADS

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.

RSTA INDUSTRY CONFERENCE REPORT: THE NEW RULES

The theme of this year’s Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) industry conference was ‘The New Rules’. However, the conference also proved that the old problems resulting from the lack of investment in road maintenance are getting worse.

John Paterson, Atkins, opened the conference by highlighting how the rules concerning road maintenance were changing by outlining the new UK code of practice for highway authorities, ‘Well-managed highway infrastructure’, which has been published by the UK Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG). The new code supersedes three previous codes, ‘Well-maintained highways’, ‘Well-lit highways’ and ‘Management of highway structures’. These are now rationalized into one document.

The main change is the move away from the reliance on specific guidance and recommendations to a risk-based approach to be determined by each local authority following analysis of local needs, priorities and affordability. In addition, the code calls for a consistent approach based on collaboration between all authorities and alliances, both local and strategic. To back this up, authorities are encouraged to develop appropriate records and make a detailed inventory of highway assets. They are also encouraged to consider the adoption of new and emerging technologies in order to driver greater efficiency. Although not statutory, highway authorities are expected to have fully signed-up and implemented the new risk-based approach by October 2018.

And the benefits of this new approach? Paterson believes them to be strengthened and better asset management, increased efficiencies, improved accountability based on evidence, empowered highway authorities meeting local needs, and importantly, support for making the case for funding.

The need for rationalization is also behind the review and updating of the ‘Design Manual for Roads and Bridges’. First published in 1992 the manual comprises over 300 documents, over half of which are additional advice notes.

Arash Khojinian of Highways England explained that the revision of the manual will forward the drivers of safety, efficiency, environmental input and affordability – both initial and whole life cost. Importantly, the new manual will encourage innovation as it will move away from prescriptive to performance-based standards. The manual will continue to set out the requirements for the UK motorway and all-purpose trunk road network only.

Khojinian underlined the importance of this review as part of the undertaking for when in 2015 the Highways Agency became Highways England, a government-owned company. This called for the review of DMRB “to reduce the number of prescriptive standards and increase the number of performance standards, in line with industry best practice, and thereby reduce the number of departures from standards.” Importantly, the new DMRB will place responsibility for design justification with the supply chain designer. It will provide advice to support professional decision making. Above all, the new DMRB will enable Highways England to meet the challenges of balancing priorities against demands, innovation versus risk and ensuring collaboration for mutual benefit.

The timescale is tight as the manual is due to be updated by March 2020 and this includes one year when the draft will be submitted to Europe for approval.

Owen Jenkins, Oxfordshire County Council, gave the local authority response to the new rules against a background of considerable financial pressure. Increasingly, local authorities are having to balance funding the needs of the vulnerable against providing the essentials versus financing the ‘nice to haves’. The funding of social care and refuse collection means less investment in road maintenance as unfortunately rising social care costs means that a road surface in good condition is seen as a ‘nice to have’. To illustrate his point, Jenkins reported that local authority spend as a percentage of national GDP is at its lowest since 1948.

Oxfordshire has addressed the financial pressures by making cost savings of £300 million with a further £77 million to come. The County Council is concentrating on delivering simpler and better services that are more local at lower cost. Jenkins hopes that Oxfordshire, by being part of the England’s Economic Heartland initiative, will attract growth in council and business tax via a growth in new homes and businesses.

He welcomed the new guidance provided by the new ‘Well-managed highways infrastructure’, as being built on the principles that many authorities have already adopted and for providing the case for a well-managed resilient network against one that is just well-maintained. However, he warned that the new code by being rationalized and simpler should not result in any dumbing down of asset management approach. Nor should it be used as a tool for further budget cuts.

The new rules set out in the new code of practice and the new DMRB have been developed against a background of continued under investment in roads, particularly in local road maintenance. Howard Robinson of RSTA provided a range of startling statistics, many of which are the government’s own, that demonstrated the old problems of increasing traffic demands and deteriorating roads are getting worse not better.

He pointed out that despite local roads representing 98% of the total road network and carrying 67% of the country’s traffic, they receive far less investment than the strategic road network (SRN). The Local Government Association estimates that £1.1 million per mile is invested maintaining the strategic road network. This figure drops to only £27,000 per mile for the local road network. Highways England has a 5 year plan with targets for customer satisfaction and network performance. There is no such plan for highway authorities who instead face ongoing cuts in budgets, have to jump through the hoops of complex funding arrangements and have a far greater backlog of repairs to address due to decades of under-investment. Latest figures from the Asphalt Industry Alliance’s ALARM Survey put the pothole repair bill at over £12.06 billion with one in six local roads being in such a poor state that they may have to be replaced within the next five years. With the Department for Transport predicting a 12% increase in traffic by 2025 and a 43% increase by 2047 things can only get worse.

Robinson stated that road investment is now reaching a critical stage for the local road network. The government’s recognition that poorly maintained roads have negative social and economic impacts needs to be matched by a real long-term increase in funding. He called for the investment of an additional 2p per litre of the existing fuel duty to fix the plague of potholes. This would provide an additional annual £1 billion. Robinson welcomed the focus on asset management, the benefits of a risk-based approach and the need to make smarter decisions to get better value and to increase efficiencies. These drivers are the way forward. However, smart decisions and improved efficiencies can only go so far. Without significant increase in funding the new rules will be stymied by the old problem of lack of investment.

NEW SURVEY FINDS LOCAL ROAD CONDITION GOING FROM BAD TO WORSE

The 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey makes for grim reading. It reports that decades of investment in road maintenance combined with an aging road network and increased traffic levels means that within the next five years one in six of local roads will need significant repair or may even face closure due to their poor condition.

Produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) and based on data supplied by 63 per cent of local authorities responsible for roads in England and Wales, the survey provides a definitive overview of the poor state of the local road network. It reports that the cost to restore the local road network to a satisfactory condition would cost over £12.06 billion and that it would take 13 years to address the backlog of potholes in England and nine years in Wales.

Over the last year local highway authorities repaired 1.7 million potholes – one every 19 seconds –  however,  they are playing a never-ending catch-up game that is exacerbated by ongoing budget cuts.

“It is not just about the provision of a realistic level of investment in what is our most important infrastructure asset. But for that funding to have long-term assurance so that highway authorities can carry out cost planned, cost efficient programmes of maintenance and not expensive emergency repairs,” explained Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “Cost-effective maintenance that prevents potholes from forming in the first place surely is the logical financial approach”.

He continued: “Without a significant increase in road maintenance investment the condition of our roads will go from bad to worse. The survey’s finding that a sixth of local roads could be unusable within five years is of considerable concern.”

CHANCELLOR FOLLOWS ROAD MAINTENANCE FAILURE OF HIS PREDECESSORS

“In his Spring Budget Philip Hammond, has failed to address the decades of under-investment in road maintenance,” said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “His budget has no recognition that a well- maintained and efficient local road network supports the national economy. Instead we have a local road network that is increasingly Third World.”

RSTA has renewed its support of the calls by the Local Government Association to address the decades of under-investment in the local road network by injecting a further £1 billion a year into roads maintenance. The additional funding could be found by investing just 2p per litre of the existing fuel duty without any need to increase fuel duty rates.

The Chancellor announced £690m funding competition for local authorities to tackle congestion and to get local transport networks moving. “Some highway authorities have seen a 50% reduction in their road maintenance budgets. It is a pity that they will have to spend precious resources on competing for funding,” said Robinson.

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 road network up to an acceptable standard.

The £1.2 billion funding includes £210 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund as announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement, £801 million Local Highways Maintenance Funding – Needs Element, £70 million from the Pothole Action fund, £75 million from the Highways Maintenance Challenge Fund where local highway authorities have to compete for funding and a further £75 million from the Highways Maintenance Incentive Element which requires completion of a self-assessment questionnaire ‘in order to reward those who demonstrate they truly understand the value of their asset’.

“It is disappointing that the Chancellor fails to appreciate the social and economic benefits of a well-maintained local road network,” said Robinson. “We note that that from 1 April 2017 vehicle excise duty rates for cars, vans and motorcycles registered before April 2017 will increase by Retail Prices Index (RPI) while VED for HGVs and the Road User Levy rates will be frozen. We call upon the Chancellor to consider channelling the funds from the VED rate increase towards road maintenance.”

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.”

ROAD MAINTENANCE SECTOR WELCOMES CHANCELLOR’S PLANS FOR SPECIFIC ROAD FUND

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed the Chancellor’s new vehicle excise duty road fund.

Unveiled in his first Conservative Budget, George Osborne announced a new national fund that will see the introduction in 2017 of three new levels of vehicle excise duty for new cars, starting with a lowest duty of £140 per year. He promised that “every single penny raised in vehicle excise duty in England will pay for the sustained investment our roads so badly need”. Having commented that the quality of UK road network lags behind that of Puerto Rico and Nambia, the Chancellor stated that “tax paid on people’s cars will be used to improve the roads they drive on.”

The announcement marks a return to when road tax was collected specifically to fund road network improvements.

“We warmly welcome the recognition by the Chancellor of the poor state of the road network and his announcement to provide a dedicated road fund to address this,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “For many years we have called for the monies raised from road taxation to be ring-fenced and used for the purposes that the road tax was set-up for”.

However, he warned: “Road taxes raise some £6 billion a year whilst fuel duty raises a further £27 billion. More of this money should be invested into long-term road maintenance that addresses the £12 billion necessary to bring our road network up to a reasonable standard.”

GOVERNMENT REDUCED FUNDING OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES WILL MEAN MORE POT HOLES

New analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found that councils in England could face a £3.3 billion funding reduction in 2016/17. This means that despite recent government announcements of additional funding for repair of potholes and road maintenance, local authorities will have to further reduce their spending on fixing roads.

The LGA analysis, ‘Future Funding Outlook Report’, found that due to reduced government funding and rising demand local councils will face a funding gap of £9.5 billion by 2020. With councils already having made £20 billion in savings since 2010 following government funding cuts of up to 40% many warn that there are no further efficiencies to be made and that vital services such as road maintenance will suffer. Indeed, LGA has found that between 2010/11 and 2013/14 spending on road repairs has already decreased by 17 per cent.

“The reduction of budgets for road repairs is alarming,” said Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).  “The local road network is the greatest structural asset of local authorities yet due to continued government funding reductions, they are having to raid road budgets to fund other areas of council services. The results will be further deterioration in the road network, more pot holes and more money required in the future to make roads fit for purpose”.

He continued: “Local councils do not have the financial resources to undertake comprehensive long-term maintenance. Instead they have to do expensive short-term emergency pot hole repair and patch-and mend. Providing local authorities with the right level of funding would allow them to properly and cost efficiently maintain their roads”.

A WELL MAINTAINED ROAD NETWORK COULD PROVE TO BE A VOTE WINNER

If the new Conservative Government really wants to have a positive impact on the socio-economic wellbeing of the country and win votes at the next General Election then it should provide real sustained investment in the maintenance of the road network believes Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

The poor potholed state of many of our roads is of considerable concern to many drivers. With thirty five million drivers in the UK, most with the ability to vote, the government would be well advised to take note of that concern. Of particular concern is that the billions of tax paid by drivers does not seem to go towards funding a better road network. Fuel duty raises an annual £26.9 billion whilst other motoring vehicle excise duties taxes raise another £6.1 billion with a further £25 billion from VAT on fuel and car sales. Despite this there is a £12 billion backlog of road repairs due to decades of under investment. The discrepancy between the amounts taken in road tax fuel duty and the amount spent on road maintenance is not lost on motorists. Recognising the growing anger of motorists the Conservative manifesto for the recent election pledged enough funding to fix around 18 million potholes nationwide between 2015 and 2021. Now that they are in power it is hoped that they fulfil this pledge.

The latest Annual Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey found that despite additional government emergency pothole repair funding and a significant 33% increase in the number of potholes being repaired during 2014 the years of under-investment means that highway authorities are playing a never-ending catch-up game. A major problem is that the additional funding being provided is being spent on expensive reactive repair rather than cost-effective preventative maintenance that would help to prevent the potholes from forming in the first place. It costs just £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs an average £54m2 to repair a pothole.

The government needs to fully recognise the social and economic benefits of a well-maintained road network and work with local highway authorities to develop and implement long-term funding mechanisms that encourage proper programmes of planned maintenance rather than reactive patch-and-mend. As part of this there should be the implementation of analytical mechanisms and economic methodology to assess the costs and benefits of a well maintained road network. The road network is the country’s greatest asset and as such should command appropriate investment.

However, there will continue to be real constraints on core revenue funding with councils being faced with reduced budgets and ever-increasing demands. Here, working with the road maintenance industry they can learn how to achieve more for less. They should also ensure the adoption of the initiatives forwarded by the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) and realise the benefits of asset management. For its part, the road surface industry should continue to further develop best practice and new products that deliver long-term performance and optimum road surface solutions.

The condition of the roads provides a visible indication of the state of a country’s social wellbeing and economic performance. If the government wishes to persuade voters that these are improving then it should invest in a better, well-maintained road network.

LOCAL ROADS FACE HUGE REPAIR BACKLOG

A new survey has underlined the poor state of the road network by revealing the huge backlog of road repairs needed to be undertaken. The scale of the problem means that the Government’s pre-Christmas announcement of a £6 billion fund to repair potholes over the next six years will not be enough.

The survey has been carried out by the Press Association who sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to local highway authorities in England and found that some have thousands of potholes to repair and face a backlog costing up to £100 million. The greatest backlogs were in Leeds with up to £100 million, Gloucestershire with £86 million, Oldham with £60 million, Rochdale with £58 million, and Islington in London with £79 million. Some Councils reported that they had thousands of known potholes to repair such as Plymouth with 3,200 and Northumberland with 6,600.

A succession of severe winters and flooding together with on-going budget cuts have left many councils without the necessary resources to undertake necessary road maintenance. Indeed, Coalition spending cuts since 2010 had left 2,262 miles of local roads needing repairs. Data from the Department for Transport reveals spending on all road maintenance on local authority minor roads has dropped by 20% since 2010.

Recognising the parlous state of much of the local road network, the Government has announced a further £6 billion fund for road repair between 2015 and 2021. However, although welcomed this fails to address the £12 billion necessary to bring the local road network up to standard.

“The additional funds will not address the estimated £12 billion backlog of repairs. Nor does it address the fact that the overall funding gap for road repair continues to increase year on year”, explained Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

He continued: “Highway authorities continue to face severe financial restraints. That is the reality. Whilst, RSTA and its members continue to work closely with local authorities to develop and implement highway maintenance efficiency programmes that will enable them to achieve ‘more for less’, the decades of under investment means that many councils are running just to stand still.”