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Why road users are right to demand an end to the pothole crisis

Tell anyone you meet that you work in the highways sector and you will no doubt receive a comment on the state of the roads, more specifically potholes. Right now, it appears there is no greater concern for motorists in the UK than potholes. Which is not surprising given drivers are spending over £4bn a year repairing damage from potholes to their cars.

Not only are potholes costly for drivers, they are also potentially dangerous. With an average pothole repair bill costing over £200, it’s no wonder drivers can be tempted to make hazardous manoeuvres to avoid them.

Cyclists and motorbike riders are particularly exposed to the danger of potholes with an escalation of injuries associated with potholes being seen across the country. Since 2003, the number of serious injuries to cyclists has grown more quickly than the growth in cycling traffic, with serious injuries rising by 48 percent. Between 2007 and 2016, 22 cyclists have been killed and 368 seriously injured as a result of poor or defective roads

Potholes are also costing local councils dearly. Cycling UK submitted freedom of information requests to highways authorities and found they have paid out around £72 million in compensation and legal costs for claims relating to potholes since 2013.

Potholes are not a new problem but the problem is getting worse. Looking at Google data for people searching the terms ‘potholes’, ‘report potholes’ and ‘pothole claims’ shows an increasing number of searches from 2009, peaking in April 2018.

Funding pothole repairs

Central government and local councils are, of course, aware of this issue. The Pothole Action Fund, announced in the 2015 Budget allocates £50 million to potholes in 2018/19. The total fund amounts to £296 million. A further £100 million was announced in March 2018 to help councils repair roads badly affected by the winter weather. A year later another £50 million was allocated for road repairs and flood defences with another £151 million available to reward best practice examples.

Furthermore, the government is consulting on whether or not firms such as utility companies that dig up the roads should be required to guarantee no potholes for five years rather than the two-year guarantee they currently have to provide.

These changes are a move in the right direction, but not nearly enough. The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) has estimated that £8bn is needed to carry out a one-time, thorough fix of potholes in England. While this is a huge sum of money, thinking back to the cost of repairs to drivers and the cost of compensation to councils it would be money well spent.

In fact, drivers may be willing to contribute specifically to this effort. Research by Green Flag involving 2,000 British drivers found that 40 percent would be willing to pay additional road tax in return for pothole-free roads.

Listening to road users

Drivers want a pothole-free road surface and appear to accept that this requires additional investment. It requires resurfacing the roads rather than patching the potholes, only for them to reappear next winter. Taking a long-term approach to road safety and being open to investing more upfront with a view to making savings in the long run through reduced maintenance is an approach we at Clearview support. Recently, we have been involved in a project to upgrade a section of the A38 that was suffering from poor road surface and road markings.

The A38 upgrade project was designed to meet the needs of the next 20 years of traffic flow, so Highways England sought out and invested in solutions that would provide longevity and a greater whole life cost-benefit. These included our Active Road Studs and road markings and surfacings from WJ. The video below outlines the upgrades made on the A38 and the thinking behind the investment.

We surveyed road users after this installation and were overwhelmed with their response. The results showed that 87 percent of drivers reported feeling reasonably or totally safe driving the A38 after the upgrade compared to 28 percent before. This scheme is currently being extended further along the A38.

Putting the two together

Drivers have consistently expressed their concern over the state of the roads and it’s time we listened to them and brought our aging infrastructure up to date. The funding outlined above is not enough to deliver this. That’s why a new approach is needed; find the money and invest it now. Tax payers are willing to pay towards it, but if a long-term planning approach is taken we are confident the overall cost will be lower. It’s time to listen to road users and get our roads back on track.

Author: Michelle C |Date Published: May 2019

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