Category Archives: potholes

PREDICTIONS OF NEW BEAST FROM EAST IS BAD NEWS FOR ROADS

Predictions that Britain is facing a new ‘Beast from the East’ could prove to be bad news for those highway authorities who have not carried out the necessary maintenance of the road network warns the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Researchers at University College London have made one of the longest-range UK weather forecasts and predicted that January – February 2020 could be one of the coldest winters for 30 years with an average temperature of 3.9C, which is 0.5C below the 1981-2010 average for the same period.

“A severe winter would have a detrimental impact upon our roads and result in a significant increase in the number of potholes, particularly where roads have not been properly maintained or re-surfaced,” said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive.

Potholes are caused by water or snow freezing in cracks in the road surface. The expansion of ice results in damage and breaking up of the road surface which is made worse by repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Budget constraints over the last 10 years, mean that many highway authorities have not had assured levels of funding for planned, comprehensive maintenance and are forced to adopt an expensive patch-and-mend approach.

“Years of under-investment by successive governments has resulted in a decline in proactive maintenance techniques such as surface treatments, where roads are treated before they get to a critical condition, by sealing the surface against water ingress and thus preventing potholes forming.  This is what highway authorities should be doing to comply with the new code of practice, Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure. The industry constantly counts how many potholes have been repaired, but in reality we should be stopping them forming in the first place. The resultant patch-and-mend mentality of repairing potholes reactively is a very expensive solution explained Harper. “Whilst the government has provided some much welcomed additional ad-hoc funding there are over 40,000 local roads that are in such a poor structural condition that they will need to be replaced within 5 years.”

Harper called for a new approach from both national and local government: “What is needed from national government is a 5 year settlement for the UK’s Local Road Network, similar to that already in place, and delivering benefits, for the Strategic Road Network.  Such a new approach would provide that assured funding that allows local highway authorities to plan and implement the programmes of maintenance that would enable roads to withstand the impact of severe winters and ever increasing traffic volumes.

BREXIT IS NOT VOTERS ONLY CONCERN SO ARE POTHOLES

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge of a one-off £1.8bn cash boost for the NHS shows that he knows that come a General Election Brexit is not the only concern of voters. He would be well-advised to also address to deteriorating local road network.

Decades of under investment has resulted in a deteriorating local road network riddled with potholes. The bill to restore the road network to a decent standard is £9.79 billion because successive governments have failed to provide the funding levels required to carry out the necessary levels of road maintenance. Continued cutbacks in local authority funding means that the situation can only get worse.

“Any political party that commits to real investment in our local road network would have significant approval from voters,” said Mike Harper, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

With thirty five million drivers in the UK, most with the ability to vote, the prime minister 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.  Motorists pay £58 billion in taxation to the Exchequer – £26.9 billion in fuel duty, £25 billion VAT on fuel and £6.1 billion for other motoring taxes. Against this just £2.06 billion is provided by central government as funding for local road maintenance. Furthermore, as it is not ring-fenced, the funding may not even be spent on road maintenance but on other council services as cash-strapped councils struggle to balance the books.

RSTA is calling for the investment of an additional 2p per litre taken from the existing fuel duty to fix the plague of potholes. This would provide an extra £1 billion to fix roads.

“A further £1 billion annual investment would certainly help local authorities tackle the damage done by under-investment by successive governments,” argued Harper. “The poor state of our roads is a major social and economic issue. Voters should make it a political issue too asking the party activists and parliamentary candidates what their political party plans to do to increase investment in their local roads.”

In addition, RSTA is calling for a 5 year funding settlement for local roads, as is the case for the strategic road network, so that highway managers can make long term decisions about how to manage their pavement assets, rather than relying on twindling budgets that are topped up on an ad hoc basis by additional pothole funding. Harper said: “Appropriate funding as part of a 5 year settlement will allow highway authorities to intervene with surface treatments, at the appropriate time in a roads life, to avoid potholes forming in the first place.”

PREDICTIONS OF COLD WINTER ARE BAD NEWS FOR LOCAL ROADS

Predictions of the coldest winter for eight years could prove to be bad news for the local road network. The Weather Company is predicting Britain’s worst winter since 2010-11 with temperatures falling to -21C. Exacta Weather are predicting a colder than average December with widespread snow. Meanwhile, the Met Office also believes that a predicted El Nino warming of the eastern Pacific could result in colder than usual temperatures in December and January. This is bad news for those highway authorities who have failed to properly maintain their road networks and for the motorists who use them warns the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

“A cold icy winter will have a detrimental impact upon our roads resulting in more potholes, particularly where local authority highway departments have not carried out proper road maintenance programmes”, warned Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Potholes are caused by water or snow freezing in cracks in the road surface. The expansion of ice results in damage and breaking up of the road surface which is made worse by repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Budget constraints mean that many highway authorities are unable to carry out planned, comprehensive maintenance and are forced to adopt an expensive patch-and-mend approach.

Robinson called upon the government to provide local authorities with the necessary assured funding to carry out road maintenance: “Patch-and-mend defies economic logic”, said Robinson. “It costs only £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs on average £52m2 to repair potholes. Expensive, emergency patch and mend repair of potholes is not a sensible use of highway budgets.”

A prolonged cold winter with cycles of freezing and thawing will be bad news for vulnerable roads. The government needs to provide the necessary funding to allow local authorities to invest in programmes of planned maintenance and so ensure that their road network is weather resilient”.

NEW ASSET MANAGEMENT GROUP FOR LOCAL ROADS

A new Asset Management Group has been set-up by the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). Aimed at local authorities, the Group will allow their highway departments to share best practice linked to the now mandatory Code of Practice – Well Managed Highway Infrastructure. The Code calls for a change in the way that road network is managed through the adoption of a risk-based approach. 

The Group has been established in partnership with XAIS Ltd, an asset management consultancy. It will develop and run a series of new courses on road surfaces and setting investigatory levels linked to road hierarchies. 

The first of these courses is on skid resistance. It will specifically focus on section B.5.6 of the Code and the recommendations for skid resistant surveys including setting the hierarchy, responsibilities, timescales and collating evidence. The course will examine how to develop a skid resistant strategy, how to measure skid resistance as well as the legal implications and liability risk. 

The two-day skid resistance course will run on 4/5th October in Wolverhampton, 17/18th October in Milton Keynes, 15/16th November in Bristol and 4/5th December in Doncaster. For registration and further information visit: www.rsta-uk.org or email: enquiries@rsta-uk.org 

“The new group will enable local authorities to take the best approach towards adopting asset management and we encourage them to join”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “Given that, according to Department for Transport statistics, 27% of local roads need further investigation of possible inadequate skid resistance, the course on skid resistance and investigatory limits and road hierarchies will provide highway departments with the knowledge of how to meet their legal responsibilities via a risk-based approach.”

COUNCIL PRAISED BUT GOVERNMENT CRITICISED

Oxfordshire County Council has been praised for its decision to borrow £120 million to repair roads and other council assets. However, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) says that although the council is to be commended for its planned investment, it is a sad indictment of how the government’s budget cutbacks have forced the council to go into debt to pay for essential road maintenance. 

The council has made its decision following a report to the council’s cabinet that found lack of investment has resulted in a ‘significant reduction in quality of major and minor roads, as well as pavements, with an increase in car damage and personal injury claims’. The proposed investment will see £80 million spent on road improvements and £40 million invested in other council-owned assets. 

It is hoped that Oxfordshire’s expected growth in homes and subsequent annual £6million increase in council tax revenue will pay back the loan. 

“Oxfordshire County Council are to be commended for their decision to borrow to invest in road maintenance”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “The premise of investing in a well-maintained roadwork for economic return has been underlined by a recent West Midlands Road Condition Survey that found that an accelerated road maintenance programme would generate economic returns of £6.50 for every £1 spent. However, the council’s need to borrow additional funding proves that funding from central government is not sufficient to allow councils to fulfil their responsibilities.” 

By 2020, local authorities will have had a £16 billion reduction of core government funding since 2010. Continued funding restrictions means that by 2025 councils in England will face a funding gap of £7.8 billion. Faced with this, councils are trying to find new ways of funding and operating whilst still delivering essential services such as road maintenance. 

“The local road network is a council’s greatest infrastructure asset. A well maintained road network has significant economic and social benefits. Yet for years the government had failed to provide adequate funding for local road maintenance. The government should recognise the national importance of the local road network and increase investment accordingly,” said Robinson.

RSTA CONFERENCE CALLS FOR PROPER RECOGNITION OF ‘CINDERELLA’ LOCAL ROAD NETWORK

A vibrant national economy needs a well-maintained local road network. The presenters and delegates at the recent RSTA industry conference were agreed. The issue is how to convince the government in its Westminster bubble that the Cinderella of the UK transport system should go to the Ball?

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, opened the conference by describing the local road network as ‘the Cinderella’ of the UK transport system. It does all of the work but receives far less than it deserves. He cited the National Travel Survey England 2016 which reported that road travel (including car, bus and cycling) accounted for 69% of all journeys undertaken and a total of 83% of all travelled distance. Despite the overwhelming preference for road transportation the latest ALARM survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance reported a shortfall of £9.31 billion and a necessary 14 years to address the backlog of potholes and bring the local road network up to a reasonable standard. “What is really worrying about the latest survey’s findings is that 24,000 miles of local roads will need repairing next year and one-in-five local roads could fail within the next five years”, explained Gooding. “The ALARM survey is not alarming enough. It’s all too easy for those in Westminster to lose sight that the local road network is the public sector’s most important asset. For those outside the Westminster bubble, for the two thirds who travel by car to work, the availability of a well-maintained road network is an important issue.” Gooding went on to comment that this is also of concern with local councils.  He pointed to the State of Local Government Finance Survey 2018 which shows that while funding for social care and education is high on the agenda of local authorities maintaining the local road network is not in the top list of their issues to be concerned about. “The fact that road maintenance does not seem to be on their radar is very worrying”, he said.

Unfortunately local road maintenance is not as ‘sexy’ as the ribbon cutting ceremony of some impressive new infrastructure project. Somehow road maintenance needs to raise its image. Gooding wondered if emphasising the business case for a well-maintained road network may help, believing that “the more the business world complains, the more Government may listen and if not the future could see us all having to buy 4×4’s in order to navigate our potholed, rutted roads.”

Business is fully aware of the negative impact of the poor state of the road network. Chris Richards, Head of Business Environment at EEF, reported that it was the number one challenge for its members who are calling for “a resilient network providing reliability of journeys for staff and deliveries”. EEF members report that over the last two years the deterioration of the road network has got worse. Richards also focused on the ALARM survey findings that 20% of local roads risk failure in five years. This is of particular concern to those 25% of businesses in a rural local location for whom a well-maintained road network is vital.

He called for the Government to recognise the economic importance of the local road network: “The Government must realise that a well-maintained local road network is an ‘economic enabler’.” A way forward could be taking more funding decisions away from the Westminster bubble and developing more funding streams at a local level. Richards believed that devolution could see local authorities adopting a more strategic approach resulting in better local governance at a local level.

The view from local authorities was provided by Simon Neilson, President of ADEPT and Executive Director – Economy and Environment, Walsall Council. He underlined the role of ADEPT to bring together local authorities, private partnerships and local enterprise organisations to forward issues to government and, touching on the Cinderella theme, called for local roads to have much more prominence particularly in the digital smart debate where innovation can prove that local roads can be much more than just local roads. The need for greater prominence is demonstrated by the Government proposals for the creation of a Major Road Network. Whilst welcoming the recognition of the national importance of strategic local A roads, Neilson pointed out that the proposal overlooks the majority of the local road network and its role in linking together the strategic road network. “The creation and funding of a Major Road Network is to be welcomed”, said Neilson, “But the Government should acknowledge the important role that the local road network has for the national economy. Government needs to include in its Industrial Strategy – its plan to create an economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout the UK – the provision of a well-maintained local road network”.

Interestingly, Neilson welcomed one aspect of the Government austerity programme. “Austerity has helped to focus attention on how to get the best results in the best way”, he said. However, he deplored the obsession with competitive bidding for funding calling it “a waste of resources particularly when ultimately funding is a political decision”.

The final speaker, Angus Bodie, Programme Manager of the Scottish Roads Collaboration Programme, also saw some benefit in austerity as it has resulted in greater collaboration and sharing of resources plus it has “focused on how to deliver efficiently managed roads and identify opportunities”. However, much of this focus is due to necessity with Bodie reporting that in Scotland there has been a 60% reduction in local road maintenance budgets over the last ten years. The subsequent deterioration in the road network has not gone unnoticed with the latest Customer Experience Survey finding that 76% of respondents were dissatisfied with the road network and 68% saying that it has got worse over the last two years.

Believing that the public does not differentiate between the governance and funding of strategic and local roads and that “a road is a road”, Bodie called for the rationalisation of road governance which in Scotland is shared between 32 local road authorities, one national road authority and seven regional transport partners. He also called for ring fencing of road funding possibly by statute devolution. Supporting that call was the fact that the Customer Experience Survey found 28% of respondents ready to pay more tax for better road maintenance.

The resulting Q&A session saw further reference to the Cinderella analogy with delegates wondering if local road maintenance would ever be given a ‘glass slipper’ and if so by what Prince Charming. Prince Charming was certainly not felt to be national government but maybe the new city mayors could be persuaded to come to the ball. However, whoever the Prince Charming is for increased maintenance funding it was agreed that the Cinderella local road network needs to get out of the kitchen and prove that real investment in maintenance is good for road safety, for the economy and for the environment.

NEW FORD SAFETY FEATURES ARE A SAD INDICTMENT OF LOCAL ROAD NETWORK

The launch of the new fourth-generation Ford Focus with technology designed to cope with Britain’s increasingly potholed roads is a sad indictment of the deteriorating state of the local road network. 

The new Focus has a range of new anti-pothole features including a new chassis, independent rear suspension and an innovative continuously controlled damping (CCD) system. Every two milliseconds sensors monitor and adjust the car’s suspension, body, steering and braking to ensure a smooth ride especially over badly maintained roads. Launching the new model this week Ford explained: “The technology helps reduce the impact of driving through potholes, by detecting the edge of a pothole and adjusting the damper so that the wheel doesn’t fall as far into it. Because the tyre and wheel don’t drop as far, they don’t strike the opposite side of the pothole as harshly. The rear suspension can respond even faster, with a signal from the front wheel providing a pre-warning to the rear wheel well before it reaches the pothole.” 

The CCD system is one of a number of new safety features including speed-sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, automatic lane centring and parking assistance. 

Whilst welcoming the new CCD safety feature, Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) said: “It is a sad indictment of the state of our roads that a car manufacturer makes a selling point of anti-pothole safety technology. Unfortunately, the evidence of decades of under-investment in maintaining the local road network and the need for such safety features is very apparent.” 

The RAC has reported that its patrols attended 11% more breakdowns that could be attributed to potholes in the last quarter of 2017 compared to that of 2016.  A total of 2,380 RAC member breakdowns were due to potholed damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs or distorted wheels. Meanwhile, the latest AA-Populus poll of 21,000 drivers found that 52% have had their vehicles damaged as a result of poor road conditions in recent years. Worrying, 85% of those polled say that shoddy roads make them worry about their safety when behind the wheel. 

Also of concern is the high cost to cash strapped local authorities. A series of Freedom of Information requests sent to local authorities by the charity Cycling UK found that English local authorities have paid out £43.3 million in pothole compensation over five years. 

“Ford are to be commended on their new safety features”, said Robinson, “However, it is worrying that our deteriorating local road network make them so necessary.”

POTHOLES: FROM LOCAL PROBLEM TO NATIONAL DISGRACE

On the fourth annual National Pothole Day, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has declared that decades of under-investment in maintaining the local road network means that potholes have gone from being just a local problem to being a national disgrace.

“Decades of government under-funding has deprived local councils from having the resources to carry out comprehensive planned maintenance. Instead, we have inefficient patch-and-mend of a never-ending pothole plague where hard-pressed councils take one step forward and two steps back,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “The cumulative impact of the potholes in your local area has significant national social and economic consequences that government would do well to take note of.”

Nationally, according to the 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, the lack of investment in road maintenance means that it would cost £12.06 billion and take 13 years to address the backlog of potholes in England and nine years in Wales.

Such is the extent of the problem that although last year local highway authorities repaired 1.7 million potholes – one every 19 seconds – the RAC reported that between January and March 2017 it dealt with a 63% increase in pothole-related breakdowns such as broken suspension springs, damaged shock absorbers or distorted wheels. The national cost of these breakdowns is high with the Tax Payers’ Alliance calculating that annually local authorities pay out over £8 million in compensation claims for road-surface related vehicle damage. This is money that councils can ill-afford.

“It is not just the personal cost of potholes, it is also the cost to the national economy,” warns Robinson. “At a time when post-Brexit, the government wants to show that Britain is open for business the very transport system that carries 97% of our traffic is well below the standard of our chief European competitors.”

According to the latest World Economic Global Competitiveness Index 2017-18, our road network is rated 27th compared with 7th for France, 8th for Portugal, 15th for Germany and 16th for Spain. Indeed, the standard of the UK’s roads is only just above that of Namibia rated 31st and Rwanda rated 32nd.

“National Pothole Day puts the focus on a local problem that is fast becoming a national disgrace. After years of trying to ignore the extent of the problem the government needs to wake-up and provide real levels of assured funding for local road maintenance”, said Robinson.