Category Archives: local road network

NEED FOR WELL TRAINED HIGHWAY WORKFORCE NEVER BEEN HIGHER

The need for a well-trained and competent highways workforce has never been higher as the impact of budgetary cutbacks, maintenance backlogs and extreme weather takes an ever increasing toll on the local road network. With local authorities having to reduce or even disband their inhouse training programmes, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) continues to develop its CPD training courses and assessment services for both operatives and asset managers and engineers.

Against the background of budget restrictions there are other drivers for a well-trained workforce. Road maintenance continues to have a high priority with the public and they expect right-first-time maintenance and repair solutions rather than poorly carried out patch-and-mend. In addition, local authorities when forwarding their case for road maintenance funding must demonstrate the competence of their decision makers and workforce. The need for accessible, industry recognised highway engineer and operative training has never been greater.

Increasingly, local authorities are turning to industry associations to provide training programmes. Established as an industry sector focus, the RSTA is well placed to provide a training resource. The Association has invested in and continues to develop a comprehensive CPD approved training programme specific to the road maintenance sector. The programme offers training in surface dressing, slurry surfacing (microsurfacing) and high friction surfacing. In addition, there are seminars showcasing all available road surface treatments. Where appropriate the CPD training courses are linked to National Highway Sector Scheme 13 for the Supply and Application of Road Surface Treatments and RSTA is also able to assess operatives at NVQ Level 2,  supervisors at  NVQ Level 3 and managers at NVQ Level 4. RSTA deliver courses all over the UK and often these are in-house courses for highway authorities, consultants and contractors which provides economies of scale benefits. RSTA has also developed a Diploma in Road Surface Treatments with the University of Derby and the Institute of Asphalt Technology (IAT).

“If road maintenance and repair are to be successfully undertaken then the right surface treatments need to be correctly specified and carried out by well-trained and competent decision makers and workforce”, said Paul Boss, RSTA Chief Executive. “That is what ensures quality of work, best practice, improved health and safety, better value and increased efficiency.”

In addition, RSTA is working closely with organisations such as LCRIG to deliver specific training events that facilitate best value through collaboration by allowing local authorities to train together. The RSTA also collaborates with Xais Asset Management to provide skid resistance policy courses for local authorities.

Boss commented: “We encourage local authorities to collaborate and get engineers together from neighbouring authorities as well as their own staff.  We can provide training courses within local authorities’ own premises for a fixed cost. Not only does this save on associated travel and hotel costs by taking the course to the learners, but by local authorities grouping together to get higher numbers of attendees for a one off fixed cost, the cost per learner is reduced, making those training budgets go further.”

He concluded: “Despite having to reduce training budgets, local authorities must  prove the competence of their decision makers and workforce for additional funding and to meet the expectations of the public. RSTA is working with them to avoid the potholes by plugging the training gap.”

HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE BUDGETS AT RISK FOLLOWING PANDEMIC CASH SHORTFALLS

The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could see councils across England making budget cuts of up to 20 percent. With road maintenance budgets in the firing line the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) is calling for a new approach for the funding and governance of local road networks.

According to the Local Government Association, councils will face additional costs of up to £13 billion this year due to measures required in tackling the pandemic. These additional costs come on top of over a decade in which local authority budgets have been slashed. Between 2015/16 and 2017/18, councils lost 77 percent of their funding from central government used to provide essential services.

The impact of the pandemic has led to many sources of revenue, i.e. the collection of parking fees, drying up. It is estimated that councils could lose up to £1.4 billion from these funding streams, leading to many councils potentially facing a financial black hole. Other losses include £400 million in business rates, fees and charges of £341 million and council tax revenue of £288 million as many people have lost their jobs and others are utilising payment holidays.

To counteract this, the government has allocated a further £3.8 billion to councils in the last two months. But this falls far short of what is required, with many local authorities still reeling from year-on-year cuts to budgets. According to the Local Government Association councils will need up to four times the funding they have been allocated by government so far.

The financial crisis affecting councils post-pandemic could have a significant detrimental impact on highway budgets as councils are forced to use them to pay for social care. The government has announced an additional £2.5 billion highway maintenance funding over the next five years; however, it could cost more than £11 billion to address the current roads repair backlog.

“The additional £500 million a year, although welcomed, is not enough and was allocated pre-Covid. Although following the Transport Select Committee report into local highways funding that was accepted by DfT is envisaged to lead to an announcement of longer term capital funding in the autumn, decades of under investment in the local road network has left a legacy of potholes that needs a new approach if it is to be properly addressed,” said Paul Boss, RSTA Chief Executive.

Boss believes this new approach should be based primarily on prevention rather than cure. He added: “Fixing potholes is just playing catch-up. What is needed is providing councils with a range of simplified governing and funding mechanisms that can enable the development and implementation of planned programmes of maintenance that prevent the deterioration of roads from happening in the first place.”

As part of this new approach the RSTA is calling for the local road network to be treated on parity with the strategic road network which, unlike local roads, has a greater certainty of funding with a 15 year road investment strategy. This contrasts sharply with the annual, often ad hoc, funding for local roads. Funding for local roads should be simplified. Councils have to access a myriad of funding pots which have different legal frameworks, different assessment criteria, business case requirements and timescales. This leads to a lack of effective planning, duplication and waste. Addressing these issues would improve outcomes and value for money. Furthermore, the Government should consider the injection of an additional £1 billion a year into a much-needed programme to address the pothole backlog by investing 2 pence per litre from the existing fuel duty to fix local roads.

Boss concluded: “During the pandemic the Government recognised the essential role that the local road network has in keeping Britain moving. It is time for a new approach that enables councils to ensure that this role is properly realised.”

NEW CHANCELLOR ADVISED TO DELIVER ROAD PLEDGE

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has called upon the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak to not only deliver on the Conservative election manifesto pledge of investing £2 billion to repair potholes but to also provide a mechanism for the long-term, assured investment in road maintenance.  Mr Sunak, is due to present his budget on 11th March.

Mike Harper, RSTA Chief Executive said: “It costs on average £52m2 to repair a pothole against the mere £2.50m2 to surface dress and maintain a road. A provision of real levels of long-term assured investment would enable highway authorities to implement planned programmes of road maintenance. This would ensure the good condition or road surfaces and prevent defects and potholes from forming in the first place. Preventative maintenance would be a far more cost effective approach that expensive patch-and-mend.”

In addition to delivering the Conservative election manifesto pothole pledge, Harper called upon the Chancellor to commit to an injection of £1.5 billion a year to address the local road £9.7 billion maintenance backlog by investing just 2p a litre from the existing fuel duty, provide a funding settlement that enables planned five-year maintenance programmes and address the funding disparity between the strategic road network and the local road network. The strategic road network maintenance receives 53 times more funding per mile than local roads. Yet the vast majority of journeys are undertaken on the local road network.

Harper said: “The local road network is the UK’s greatest infrastructure asset and is worth some £400 billion. With every road journey starting and ending on a local road, a well-maintained local road network is essential to the national social well-being and economic prosperity. Furthermore, post-Brexit, and as part of levelling-up’ the regions, the government wants to prove that Britain is ready and open for business. The provision of a well-maintained local road network is fundamental to achieving that objective.”

FULFILLING POTHOLE PLEDGE WOULD BE EARLY WIN FOR PRIME MINISTER

According to media reports the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is hitting the ground running. The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) advises him to ensure that he avoids the potholes.

The Conservatives manifesto pledged an additional £2 billion over the next four years to repair the road network as part of a National Infrastructure Strategy calling it the ‘biggest ever pot-hole filling programme’. This has been warmly welcomed by the RSTA as a recognition that increased funding for the the local road network is essential if the decades of under-investment is to be addressed. The overall condition of local road network has deteriorated to such an extent that the latest ALARM Survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance reports that one-in-five roads are in such a poor condition that they will need replacing within five years.

“Improving the local road network would be an immediate and real sign that the Government is investing in local communities and local economies”, said Mike Harper, RSTA Chief Executive. “The additional funding over the next 4 years would give highway authorities increased means to not only repair our roads but to develop and implement proactive programmes of maintenance that would stop the potholes from forming in the first place.”

ELECTION MANIFESTO PROMISES END TO POTHOLED ROADS

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) was welcomed the positioning of the poor state of the local road network as a key election issue for the two major political parties.

As a result of decades of under-investment the overall condition of local road network has deteriorated to such an extent that the latest ALARM Survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance reports that one-in-five roads are in such a poor condition that they will need replacing within five years. The survey calculates that it would take ten years and cost £9.8 billion to bring the road network up to scratch.

The Conservatives manifesto has pledged an additional £2 billion over the next four years to repair the road network as part of a National Infrastructure Strategy calling it the ‘biggest ever pot-hole filling programme’. Labour has said it would invest to make ‘neglected local roads safer for drivers’. The other political parties have concentrated on bus and rail services.

“RSTA has long campaigned for the socio-economic importance of a well-maintained road network to be recognised and the necessary levels of funding investment to be provided,” said Mike Harper, RSTA Chief Executive. “We warmly welcomed the inclusion of pledges to improve the road network in the Conservative and Labour manifestos. We hope that these promises are carried through. £2 billion over 4 years – if additional funding – is a substantial and useful amount to invest to make a real change.

However, that change will not come from just ‘filling potholes’ but from implementing proactive maintenance programmes that call upon the vast array of proven road surface treatments that would keep roads in a safe and serviceable condition and avoid potholes from forming in the first place.”

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES’ SILVER LINING FOR BETTER ROAD MAINTENANCE?

The introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs) could result in a better maintained local road network believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Current live trials are pushing the momentum for the future introduction of driverless cars. In South London, driverless taxis car are currently being tested by FiveAL. The trials will test self-driving software on real busy roads in Croydon and Bromley. Trained drivers will be present in case something goes wrong. Also in London, focused on zones 1,2 and 3, Wayve are trialling eight driverless Jaguar I-Pace SUVs. Meanwhile, by the end of this year HumanDrive will have completed a 230 mile journey across the UK to test an AV in real road driving conditions from country roads to motorways.

The future benefits of self-driving cars include less accidents, improved use of road space, reduced congestion and pollution and more efficient fuel consumption. AVs would be equipped to ‘read the road’ and replicate the instinctive human ability to simultaneously observe, analyse, decide and react to every potential different road scenario such as potholes and reduced skid resistance.

“There is a flaw in the plan. The deterioration of the local road network due to decades on under-investment means that that rather than a vision of fast, smooth, well-spaced self-driving cars, the reality could be that poor road surfaces will cause the vehicles to switch to slow safety mode and signal constant warnings of approaching poor road surface conditions”, said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive.

However, Harper believes that the AVs having to go into repetitive safe mode could have a silver lining for local road investment. “Having to go into safe move would highlight the poor condition of the road surface and the need to do something about it. This would help local authorities with their business case for more funding to invest in local roads.”

Sensors fitted to AVs could provide live data on the road condition and so help local authorities not only know where pothole repairs are need but could provide the information necessary for planned programmes of maintenance.

Harper points to a research project being undertaken by Transport Scotland, Transport for West Midlands and Jaguar Land Rover to develop a system that enables AVs to spot and report potholes. Using a platform created by transport analytics firm Inrix, the AV Road Rules system would have a link to local road authorities alerting them to road damage or potholes to enable fast and efficient repair.

He said: “This is where AV’s could have a very useful role in improving the condition of our roads. Their adoption would provide real-time data that could prove valuable in developing and implementing surface dressing and maintenance programmes using a range of surface treatments, at the earliest signs of decay that would prevent potholes from forming in the first place.

AVs are being trialled as the future. This future should be one where potholes are prevented from forming as part of a well-managed, long term approach to road maintenance using the range of innovative, cost-effective surface treatments already available through RSTA members.”