£12bn repair bill for Britain’s roads after record rainfall

03/04/2014
Highways Reporters

The estimated cost to get the local road network in England and Wales back into reasonable condition has increased to £12 billion (from £10.5bn in 2013).

That’s the standout figure from the 19th Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey, which is commissioned by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA).

For the second year in a row, more than two million potholes (2,010,749) were filled in England and Wales over the course of the previous year.

The damage caused by this winter’s record rainfall, however, is predicted to have counteracted much of that work, with highways departments anticipating worse road condition to come and the higher one-time catch-up cost of £12bn.

Authorities in England have been affected the worst, reporting this estimated one-time cost as 30% higher than last year, at an average of £90 million per authority.

This forewarning comes despite a 20% decrease in the shortfall in annual road maintenance budgets reported by local authorities, which has reduced from an average of £6.2 million to £5.1 million per authority in England. The reduction in reported shortfall is primarily due to local authorities investing more in their road maintenance programmes during 2013 in an attempt to catch up on maintenance needed after the previous wet winter.

AIA chairman Alan Mackenzie is urging central government to introduce an “invest to save” policy. He said: “These figures are disappointing for everyone who has worked hard together on the Highway Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) initiated by the Department for Transport. It’s thanks to HMEP that so many highways departments have successfully made the case to their councils to invest in more repairs to avoid further deterioration and costs.  To see that work washed away is discouraging to say the least.

“The government has recently made significant additional funds available to help combat the results of the relentless rainfall this winter but money spent on repairing damage never goes as far as money invested in planned, preventative maintenance. It costs at least 20 times more per square metre to fill a pothole than it does to resurface a road.”

Almost two-thirds (65%) of local authorities in England were affected by the winter deluge, although at the time the survey was conducted most were unable to estimate the cost of damage to their networks, with many roads still under water. Highways engineers have reported that because their roads are in a fragile condition they are more affected by the wet weather and that they anticipated more potholes appearing once the water had receded.

Reaction:

Responding to the Asphalt Industry Alliance's annual ALARM survey, Cllr Peter Box, chair of the Local Government Association’s economy and transport board, said: “Councils have long warned that our already dilapidated road network could not cope with another extreme winter and the unprecedented recent flooding experienced across the country has left behind a trail of destruction to our highways. Our roads are now in such disrepair that it will take more than a decade and £12 billion to bring them up to scratch.
"Keeping our roads safe is one of the most important jobs councils do and they have worked hard to fix another two million potholes this year despite deep funding cuts and multi-million pound compensation costs for pothole damage. The government has responded to our calls for extra funding to repair our roads in recent months but it is simply not enough to free councils trapped in an endless cycle of only being able to patch up our deteriorating network. This will always be more expensive than longer-term preventative work.
“This country is now facing a roads crisis escalating at an alarming pace with every bout of severe weather and following years of underfunding. The government’s own traffic projections predict a potential increase in local traffic of more than 40% by 2040. This further highlights the urgent need for increased and consistent investment in the widespread resurfacing projects we desperately need if we're ever to see a long-term improvement.”

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) director general Nick Baveystock added: “Government’s commitment to providing our strategic roads network with long-term funding certainty is a positive step, however local roads remain in a poor state, exacerbated by the severe weather events seen over recent years. Clearly in this economic climate government is faced with difficult choices on funding, but we believe there is scope for a more ambitious joint central and local government programme to finally clear the maintenance backlog. Approaches in Wales and South East England are delivering improvements, and while there is no “one size fits all” scheme, lessons can and must be applied. Government should also commit to a regime which moves from costly quick-fix work to planned, preventative maintenance – addressing road defects properly and on a long term basis.”

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