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Economic balancing act

Matthew Lugg
Director of Highways, Transportation and Waste Management, Leicestershire County Council
Chair of UK Roads Board
Junior Vice President of Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), previously CSS.

Local Authority Highway Managers across the country are having to consider the consequences of the economic recession and how their services may be affected. The likely impacts based on the amount of Government debt will be cuts in public spending in both revenue and capital ranging from possible 10% – 30% up to 2013/14. With this level of cut backs it will be increasingly difficult to protect highway maintenance budgets.

Highway managers will need to demonstrate to their local councillors that any cut in their maintenance budget will be a false economy as future repair costs will be even greater. Inevitably with the pressures on other service areas, particularly adult social care it will be very difficult to defend highway maintenance budgets. Highway managers are better placed than ever before to articulate their case for investment using the evidence from their Highway Asset Management Plans (HAMPs). HAMPs will ensure that the best use of funding will be made by effective targeting investment to deliver the most cost effective outcomes. Timely intervention is key in this process by using surface treatments such as surface dressing will provide significant rehabilitation of a carriageway to avoid more expensive repairs.

The view of the UK Roads Board is that we should move away from the current national road condition indicators that drive us to do the worst first rather than undertake more economical earlier interventions such as surface dressing which will considerably extend the serviceability of the road network. The focus on efficiencies continues to be paramount to avoid cuts in spending. With this in mind both client and contractors must ensure that the surface treatment programmes are undertaken in the most cost effective way for example giving consideration to ensure costly haulage is minimised to reduce costs as well as tackle carbon reduction. Clients should also, with advice from contractors, give careful consideration to the type of surface treatment to ensure the most appropriate product is used. Modern surface treatments are now successfully delivered across the country with none of the problems experienced in the past.

In order to effectively maintain the national road infrastructure all local authorities should undertake annual surface dressing programmes otherwise they run the risk of not effectively maintaining their transport asset. The RSTA is a body available to give independent advice and training to help local authorities to manage their road infrastructure during these particularly challenging times.

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