Tag Archives: road maintenance funding

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.

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”.

ROAD ACCIDENTS INCREASE UNDERLINE NEED FOR SAFE ROAD SURFACES

New figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that there has been an increase in overall road casualties in Britain for the first time in 18 years. It must be more than a coincidence that this increase comes at a time when many local authorities are failing to invest in a road surface that is widely recognised as playing an integral role in road safety and accident reduction.

According to the latest figures there were 1,775 reported road deaths in 2014, an increase of 4% compared with 2013. The number of those killed or seriously injured in Britain rose by 5% to 24,582. There were a total of 194,477 casualties of all severities which is an increased of 6%, the first increase in overall casualties since 1997.

“Whilst not wanting to speculate on the relationship between road surface condition and the number of road accidents, there must be some correlation between the rising number of accidents and the decrease use of high friction surfacing,” said Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “Despite being proven to improve skid resistance and reduce braking distances there has been a significant reduction in the installation of high friction surfacing. This has a detrimental impact on road safety and, as the average associated accident and investigation costs of a non-motorway road fatality is £1.4 million, has no economic basis.”

Typical locations for high friction surfacing include road junctions, approaches to traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and roundabouts as well as road stretches that have high accident levels. With a skid accident reduction of often 50% being reported its success speaks for itself. 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.

Despite the benefits over the last few years there has been a serious decline in the use of high friction surfacing due in large part to local authority perceived cost concerns. However, since the 1980’s this cost 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.

A further issue was the lack of best practice guidance. RSTA, with the support of ADEPT, has developed key industry guidance. The ‘Service Life of Surface Treatments’ establishes the service life of a range of road surface treatments including high friction surfacing and by doing so provides a nationally agreed baseline for durability. Having such an agreed baseline is invaluable for lifecycle planning and asset management. The service life is dependent upon a number of important factors including site location and traffic volumes, surface preparation, method of working and workforce competence based on training and qualifications.

In addition there is Code of Practice that provides best practice guidance for ensuring that the baseline service life is achieved. Aimed at both client and contractor, the Code examines the application of both hot and cold high friction surfacing systems and provides practical guidance and technical details for their specification and installation. All issues concerning planning, health and safety and work execution are examined and full reference is made to relevant regulations, standards and training. In all, the Code provides definitive guidance on the right way to specify and apply high friction surfacing. Furthermore, RSTA offers a full training programme for operatives.

“High friction surfacing offers a wide range of benefits not least of which is saving lives and money. Concerns over cost and durability have been addressed and best practice guidance and training programmes for consistent and high quality application are readily available,” said Robinson. “The increase in road fatalities and accidents underline the need for a safe, well maintained road surface.”

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.