A common approach to renewals or repairs along Welsh trunk road corridors that sees works packaged together could delay work to address the principal asset risk if the package cannot be funded, a review of maintenance on the Welsh strategic road network (SRN) has argued.
The Welsh Government has published and accepted all 15 recommendations the Lugg review, the final report of a team of experts under former CIHT president Matthew Lugg that it set up in 2021 to consider whether current SRN maintenance programmes were cost effective in discharging ministers’ duties on safety and serviceability.
The team’s work had previously fed into the review of Welsh roads policy, completed last year by a panel led by Lynn Sloman.
Wales’ new SRN Asset Management Programme will take account of each route’s function or character and not assume that infrastructure must be renewed like for like; in some places speed limits could be changed or road space reallocated to active travel.
The Welsh SRN has a £1bn maintenance backlog. Most Major Asset Renewal (MAR) schemes are relatively small, but large structures in urgent need of repair include the M4 Malpas viaduct in Newport, the twin A48 Briton Ferry viaducts near Neath (below) and the M4 Tawe bridge near Swansea.
These three schemes are costed at £225m but the structures work accounts for only £155m of the total, the Lugg Review notes.
It observes that officials from the Welsh Government and their agents have investigated ‘significant complementary works’ in the schemes. ‘The rationale … would be to take advantage of the traffic management needed for the primary works, and so reduce outturn costs.’
The report comments that while the corridor approach may generate potential whole-life benefits, it will ‘undoubtably lead to high and potentially unsustainable investment levels being needed’. It warns that aggregating schemes ‘will undoubtedly lead to significant levels of investment being required which could be undeliverable in the present funding circumstances’. This could lead to ‘a reluctance to begin to develop the designs for the works required to rectify the principal issue’.
The review found that the MAR took a ‘top-down’ view of the network while 42 other SRN maintenance programmes were ‘bottom-up’ collections of schemes. It comments: ‘Consideration of the programme elements put forward by asset managers should recognise the potential for them to be influenced by the desire to retain budgets and workload for their areas of responsibility.’
The review found further inconsistency within the MAR, with structures elements being based on the Structures Asset Valuation and Investment Tool and non-structures corridor renewal works having been generated without ‘the same level of rigour’. Instead, processes and judgements should be detailed, to provide transparency and enable the government to demonstrate rigour or compliance (including if a road is alleged to be out of repair under Section 56 of the Highways Act 1980).
The report recommends a zero-based review of all maintenance schemes, using an auditable Red Amber Green process across multiple programmes which takes into account the sources of risk, probability of failure and potential consequences. A do-minimum list of renewals and repairs –work needed to meet the Government’s statutory duty – should be created, with designs progressed to ‘shovel ready’.
Maintenance programmes should also recognise the priorities laid down in the Welsh Transport Strategy (WTS), including minimising whole-life carbon emissions and improving resilience to climate change. A set of investment criteria for maintenance should be created, similar to that adopted by the government for new roads following the Sloman review.
The Lugg review says that, subject to these recommendations, all current safety critical programmes should continue. ‘Particular attention should be paid to Major Asset Renewal and the Tunnel Programme which the review team consider [are] the areas [where] Welsh ministers are exposed to the greatest risk.’
The review’s report adds that maintenance can help drive the increase in sustainable transport usage set out in the WTS. Inspections and repairs should take account of the government’s intended usage of a highway alongside its current usage.
‘By way of example, transport policy seeks to encourage cycling as a sustainable transport mode,’ says the report. ‘If cyclists are presented with a highway that is in a hazardous condition for them but one that presents no significant risk to cars, cycling will be discouraged (indeed cyclists may well be harmed).’