As a result of decreasing budgets, adverse weather conditions and increased road traffic over recent years, we have experienced ever increasing, unprecedented high levels of potholes, cracks and open joints on our road network.Pro-active maintenance of the road system has simply not been a viable option for Local Authorities and the Highway Agency, as they struggled with a massive backlog of maintenance, particularly from 2009-2013.Constricted funds saw relevant authorities prioritise sites, often with quick-fix, temporary solutions, with no real long-term strategy or options available or in place.
As part of an action plan to help tackle this seemingly endless drain on resources, the government have ring-fenced £10bn of investment in a programme of back-end loaded road repairs between 2015-16 and 2020-21.
£4bn of these finds will be targeted on national road maintenance; £6bn will be available to local authorities to tackle urgent repairs and maintenance. The announcement last June helped to allay fears throughout the industry that cuts experienced elsewhere in local authority funding would have been applied across the board, with further, probably critical, consequences for the condition of our road network.
In addition to this investment, £6m funding has been allocated in the creation of the HMEP (Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme): a public-private partnership designed to promote efficiencies and best practice recommendations within the sector.
With the government pledging to have 80% of our roads repaired by 2020, the Highways Agency and Local Authorities will now be under increased pressure to implement the recommendations of this programme and return both the Strategic Road Network and localised highway system back to a condition which is fit for purpose.
With the longer-term budget certainty that is provided by ring-fenced funding approval, the end user must now reflect upon the ‘quick-fix’ methods of the past, and move towards choices regarding specification, materials and techniques which reflect the longevity approach preferred by all stakeholders within the industry.
By working closely with contractors and manufacturers, they can ensure that new funding and innovative technologies are aligned to bring about permanent and effective management of this recent perennial problem.
Unless we move to a position of preventative medicine we will never position ourselves ahead of this problem. With the budget increases promised we are currently in a position to build longevity and life cycle value engineering into the process.
Put it simply, a pothole is the end result of poor or absent asset management. Over the past few years, the public have witnessed potholes being temporarily patched, only to have failed again months, sometimes weeks, later. The early detection and treatment of smaller, more superficial failures in the road surface leads to major efficiencies over the lifetime of the asset. As we begin to adopt the HMEP recommendations, we are already now beginning to see how pre-emptive measures can have a real and positive impact across the sector.
Utilising an effective network crack and joint repair solution should be step one in the road to recovery.