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County surveyors talking CO2 reduction but not delivering

When it comes to meeting the carbon footprint reduction requirements of the National Indicator 186, many local authorities are ‘talking the talk but failing to walk the walk’. That is the unfortunate conclusion following the recent Joint IHT/ICE Conference on Transportation Delivery held at Loughborough University.

Under NI 186 – Per Capita CO2 Emissions in the LA Area, local authorities are required to support carbon emission reduction strategies for their local area. One significant area where CO2 reduction can be achieved is through the use of road surface treatments which can help to lower the embodied carbon in highways. Yet, during the conference when questioned over the implementation of carbon emission reducing strategies for local highways, Andrew Walford, Service Head for Environment and Regeneration at the Audit Commission said: “I am aware that of all local authorities only 6 currently are in step with the requirements of NI 186.” He recommended that divisional and county surveyors should be reminded of their obligations to progress plans towards meeting the requirements of the indicator.

Local authorities should be fully aware of NI 186 and of their need to reduce their carbon footprint and that correct use of surface treatments of their road network should form part of their strategy to do so. However, only a few have developed and implemented real plans to reduce the carbon footprint of their road network. The majority are talking the talk, but failing to walk the walk.

RSTA warns against cutting road expenditure

One area where the present or incoming government should not be looking at to make cuts in order to balance the nation’s books is our road network. The discrepancy between what central government takes in road and transport taxation and what it spends on road construction and maintenance is already huge and needs to be narrowed if the safety and efficiency of our roads are to be improved.

Motorists contribute a massive £45 billion every year to the chancellor in the form of fuel tax, vehicle excise duty and VAT yet only £7.5 billion is invested into the road network. The result of this shortfall is a deteriorating national and local network that is increasingly unable to cope with the demands placed upon it. The warning from the RSTA comes as the government has announced that it wants to halve its budget deficit – expected to reach £175 billion this year – within four years.

An efficient road network is fundamental to the economic performance of the UK.  With the Department for Transport calculating that by 2015 traffic will have grown by over 30% compared to 2000 levels the national costs of an inadequate road network can only rise further.

Road safety compromised by decline in high friction surfacing

Despite the proven success of high friction surfacing in reducing the potential for accidents, its use is declining as local highway authorities face increased budgetary pressures. This has serious consequences for road safety.  With road accidents each costing over £1 million, not installing high friction surfacing also has significant financial costs.

Used for over 40 years, high friction surfacing is proven to reduce breaking distances and, as a result, the risk of accidents. It works by reducing the potential for vehicles to skid by causing friction between the tyres of a vehicle and the highway. Such is its success that the London Accident Unit reported a 52% drop in skid accidents on those sites treated with high friction surfacing. When only wet weather conditions are considered, the reduction in skid accidents is 67%.

Typical locations for high friction surfacing include road junctions, approaches to traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and roundabouts in addition to road stretches that have high accident levels. According to the government’s National Road Maintenance Condition Survey two in three such sites failed its required skid resistance level and the Asphalt Industry Alliance reports that one in four accidents involves skidding often as a result of poor road maintenance or wet surfaces.

Treatment with high friction surfaces would make roads far safer for both drivers and pedestrians. Yet, despite the acknowledged benefits, the use of high friction surfacing has declined. In addition to the human cost, the financial consequence of this is considerable. Once you include all the accident and investigation costs, the cost of non-motorway fatal accidents £1.4 million and motorway fatal accidents £1.7million per each accident. Overall, the cost of accidents is £18 billion a year. The application of high friction surfacing would reduce this cost.

Smaller road budgets could be behind the decline in the provision of high friction surfacing. Highways departments continue to struggle to maintain or improve the condition of their roads due to the significant deficit in the amount of budget they report that they need. While there appears to be a reduction in the gap between the budget that authorities in England report that they need and the budget that they actually receive, they are still only receiving slightly over half the amount required. In Wales, authorities appear to be faring worse, receiving far less than half – only 44% – of the amount they estimate they need to maintain their roads adequately. The current economic climate may restrict budgets still further.

Granted there is an additional cost factor providing high friction road surface treatments however this is dwarfed by the social, emotional and economic costs of road accidents. Every year there are 5 million road traffic accidents in the UK, resulting in 35,000 fatal or serious injuries.  Local authorities have both a moral and a financial responsibility to adopt a proven surface treatment that would significantly reduce this figure by providing a safer road surface.          

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