Enews - Issue 3 - Spring 2011

Clients’ Viewpoint

Stephen Child,
Chair of ADEPT Soils and Materials Design and Specification Group

In this current climate of financial restraint it is essential that we obtain value for money at every opportunity.  This applies to the funding for highway maintenance as much as to the pound in our own pockets.  At ADEPT, the Association of Directors for Environment, Economy, Planning and Transportation, we are concerned with using the right tools, at the right time and for the right money.  In other words we want to undertake proactive maintenance that is of a preventative nature and gives an appropriate level of performance. 

ADEPT, though the Soils and Materials Design and Specification Group, has had a long relationship with a variety of parties within industry and those that make up the RSTA.  Our objective is, I believe, the same even though one party is spending the money and another is receiving it for services provided.  Many, but not all, local authorities have in the past decade reduced spending on preventative surface treatments and invested more in asphalt surfacing.  Neither is particularly wrong, however, good asset management would demand investment and intervention at just the right time to maximise the life expectancy of the complete pavement structure.   The use of surface treatments to waterproof the pavement structure, restore the profile, and restore skidding resistance or in some cases to provide all three is an essential tool in the highway practitioner’s armoury. 

The processes available today must be designed and utilised in the correct manner to maximise the life achievable and if the best practice is followed then we, as an industry, can achieve best value from these treatments.  Being proactive means that programmes are prepared well in advance hence designs can be undertaken, the right materials ordered and works undertaken at the right time.  Performance is essential and, having spent funds from ever decreasing budgets, with preventative maintenance we can make it go further. 

That said there will always be the odd occasion when nature intervenes in its inimitable way and it does not go according to plan.  This is the nature of our business on the open road however ADEPT and the RSTA together seek to minimise the risk through the use of certificated products, codes of practice, design guides and nationally recognised quality schemes.  In the end it is about doing the right thing at the right time and doing it right in order to maximise the pound on the ground.

Chris Allen-Smith
Service Manager (Asset Management & Maintenance) Hertfordshire County Council

Ask half-a-dozen highway engineers how long surface dressing lasts and you’ll probably get half-a-dozen different answers. There are some good reasons for this variation, making it tricky to agree a ‘typical’ service life. That, however, is exactly what a recent joint RSTA/ADEPT workshop set out to do; not just for surface dressing but for slurry seals, micro asphalts and high friction surfacing too.

The results will be published soon, but – knowing the challenges – why do it in the first place? Well, there are several good reasons why some consistent and nationally recognised service life benchmarks will help the highways sector and why everyone felt it was worthwhile putting in the time and effort.

The first reason is carbon trading. With the carbon footprint of highway works moving rapidly up the agenda, it will only be a matter of time before assessing the ‘carbon cost’ of a project becomes as normal (and as important) as assessing the financial cost.

The second reason is asset valuation. With the publication of the CIPFA Transport Infrastructure Assets Code a year ago, all highway authorities know that they will need to be producing robust and audited returns for their highway assets within the next two years. This includes not just gross and current values but also the rate at which the assets are depreciating.

The common factor between the carbon and valuation issues is time – you need to know how long a treatment will last typically as well as its carbon and financial costs in order to do these calculations and a small change in the typical life can make a big difference to the bottom line.

The final and most compelling reason is value for money. It is second nature in the industry to ‘compare the market’ to make sure we’re getting the best prices but how often do we systematically look back at the works we delivered five or ten years ago to see how well they are lasting? And how do we judge if that performance is satisfactory?

One of our hypothetical half-a-dozen engineers probably said that surface dressing only lasts about five years. That may be their experience, but, if so, it probably means that it has been incorrectly specified, poor designed or inexpertly applied.

Providing some recognised benchmark service lives (along with some idea of the steps to take to make those service lives are achievable) will challenge us to look at our current practices to see if they are as effective as they should be and that has to be good news for everybody.

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