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Do we still need to get our road maintenance ducks in a row?

Traditionally now is the time of the year when new Local Authority budgets have kicked in, the weather is good and road repairs and improvements can get underway. It's always a bit of pain being stuck in roadwork traffic, but the need for increased maintenance of our urban and rural road network has never been greater.

As the latest RAC figures show, the rise in the number of reported breakdowns due to potholes has risen a staggering 63% year-on-year in first quarter of 2017, despite mild and dry winter weather conditions. The state of local roads also remains a major concern to drivers according to the RAC Report on Motoring 2016, with 14% of respondents saying it was their top concern of 2016, up from 10% in 2015.

The RAC report adds "local authorities still have a huge funding gap in their roads budget and until central government is willing to ring-fence sufficient funding to bring local roads back into a state that is fit for purpose, their condition will be subject to the whims of the weather and they will continue to be the poor relation in the nation's transport infrastructure."

Desperate times require desperate measures for residents in Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire, who have taken to putting rubber ducks into their potholes in an attempt to get the local council to undertake some remedial work.

Photo:Helen Wright

Local roads are a crucial link that cannot be ignored

The UK's strategic road network is attracting government investment through the Road To Growth Plan, but what about investments in the urban and rural network? This remains a significant budgetary issue with Local Authorities who are continuing to operate under austerity pressures, so it's no wonder there is a struggle to keep on top of even the basic road maintenance programs such as pothole repairs.

Whilst acknowledging the difficulty of longer term planning in the current economic climate, here at Clearview we would like to see a more balanced view on medium-term budget use. Of course, we recognise major trunk road investment results in economic growth, but immediate requirements to maintain the quality of local road surfaces must be looked at to ensure the final part of people's journeys is safe and efficient. There is no use putting in place solutions resulting in a fast drive down the motorway only to have major delays or have your vehicle damaged in the final few miles to your destination.

How can we change the way we view road investment?

To create a possible change in the way we invest in the roads we should look at the medium-term lifetime costs of road safety and maintenance works rather than just the upfront costs. Taking a longer-term view and allowing for higher quality solutions, services and products that are put in place on the road network today will pay major dividends over a much longer term.

Local road spend figures produced by the Department for Transport

Fluctuating local road expenditure does not help long term maintenance planning.
Source: HM Treasury Nov16

The industry would benefit from being able to invest more in technology, it would become (more) leading edge, and could work on future-proofing our smart city/motorway thinking. Safety features could be installed across the network in a consistent and uniform manner, as opposed to a region by region, or even road by road basis. Road materials could be more robust, bringing repair bills down and giving the road user a better, safer and quicker journey over longer periods rather than facing compounded problems year after year.

This kind of medium to long-term thinking may be very difficult to adopt in an environment of uncertain futures given the impending Brexit and ongoing government instability, but if we stop asking for new thinking to happen then we will continue to be locked in a whirlwind of rising costs, longer journey times and road user unhappiness.

Author: Andrew R |Date Published: June 2017

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