Memorandum by The Association of British
Drivers (RM 03)
(a) the current state of repair of motorways
and trunk roads and of local authority principal roads;
(b) the steps taken by the Government, Highways
Agency and Local Authorities to ensure that such roads are kept
in good repair; and
(c) what further steps should be taken to
bring the roads in this country up to the best possible standard?
The current situation, where to start
The UK has a population of just over 59.5 million
with a GDP of £860 billion, it has a land area of approximately
242,000 sq km. The total length of paved roads is approximately
372,000 km of which 3,300 is motorway. To put this into context
Holland has a population of approximately 15.9 million with a
GDP of £243 billion, a land area of 34,000 sq km and a length
of paved roads of 113,000 km of which 2,200 km is motorway. This
means that Holland has a population density nearly twice that
of the UK with 2.3 times as many kilometres of motorway per head
of population, this with a comparable GDP per head.
There are several figures given for the shortfall
in funds which have been made available for expenditure on carriageway,
footway, bridge and street lighting maintenance but one given
by the British Road Federation and supported by the Institution
of Civil Engineers was £5 billion to the end of 1999. Government
figures estimate that this will reach £7 billion over the
next 10 years. Current proposals for funding over the next five
years is just over £4.2 billion with 2001-02 proposed at
just over £1 billion.
Clearly if these proposals are fulfilled the
UK will at last be giving the necessary attention to what is an
essential part of its infrastructure.
We have suffered many years of neglect to our
road system and it is going to need a long-term solution, there
is no quick fix. Our roads are amongst the worst maintained in
the EU and if we are to play our full part in Europe and we want
our economy to continue to strengthen it is essential that we
move forward with this programme as soon as possible.
Condition assessments are underway and recommendations
from the DETR such as "Best Value Road Condition Surveys
for Local Highway Authorities", have been issued. One problem
area is non-motorway bridges, there are some 52,000 bridges of
which some 30,000 have to be tested for compliance with the revised
EU axle loading. Without these results it is going to be difficult
to determine costs of repair and/or alternative routes for HGV's.
It is not easy to prioritise but areas that
need serious consideration are those that are, or will shortly
be causing danger to drivers/riders. There are many recorded "black
spots", which can be significantly improved by re-engineering,
better controls, even just road signing improvements. Many sections
of road have deteriorated to such an extent that repair is not
an option and replacement is the only way. Once the sub-base of
a road (its foundation) is open to the elements there is an accelerating
deterioration of that section which will soon spread to adjacent
Methods, design and specification
The design of a road is primarily dependent
on the number of loaded axles that will pass over it in a given
life span. The UK's standard axle has been 10.5 tonnes based on
a minimum of five axles and a gross weight of 38 tonnes. Since
January 1999 the EU directive, which allows an 11.5 tonne axle
and a gross weight of 40 tonnes has come into force. Road wear
is approximately proportional to the weight of an axle raised
to its fourth power. This means that an 11.5 tonne axle causes
about 45 per cent more wear than a 10.5 tonne axle.
The Design Manual for Roads issued by the Department
of Transport still talks about standard axles by which they mean
10.5 tonne. It is interesting to note that by comparison the wear
factor for a private car is negligible.
It is a well known fact that many trucks coming
over from the continent are over-loaded and it is likely that
the 11.5 tonne axle loading is often exceeded.
The principle specification document used for
repair and maintenance of roads is called "Specification
for the Reinstatement of Openings in Highways' issued by the HAUC
(Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee) and approved by
the DOT, this is not highly regarded by local authority engineers
and in the words of one recently "you can drive a coach and
horses through it". This document does need upgrading to
ensure that road repairs are carried out to a much higher standard
than at present, giving longer life and better value for money
for the taxpayer.
Another area where significant improvements
can be made is in the area of pre-planning and co-ordination.
How many holes in the road are dug up by one utility and repaired,
for it to be dug up three or four months later by another. A five-year
plan registered with the responsible local authority by all the
utilities including those controlled by the authority should be
implemented. A licence to dig up the road would then be issued
on a co-ordinated basis (by the local authority's engineering
department). A higher level of quality control is also essential
both during the works and on completion again by the local authority
engineers or their agents.
The cost of this should be built into the pricing
structure of the contractor's bid. A system that is used in the
building industry is that a Principal Contractor is appointed
to co-ordinate and control the activities of the other specialist
sub-contractors, in this case these would be the various utilities.
Sections of road where a higher degree of wear
and tear occurs is at stop lights and tight bends. The former
because with HGV's stopped the vibration from a heavy axle repeated
many times over many years can result in the plastic depression
of the sub-grade and soil beneath, resulting in rutting and subsequent
cracking of the surface with consequential ingress of water and
weakening of the road structure. Some consideration could be given
to strengthening these zones when they are built or subsequently
Severe bends generally mean that the surface
is subjected to greater horizontal stresses due to the centrifugal
forces applied by the tyres of vehicles as they traverse the bend.
This leads to a higher degree of wear primarily to the surface
layers and therefore more rapid deterioration of the road structure
below. A higher specification for the surfacing to give greater
tensile strength in these areas would prolong the life of the
road and reduce maintenance costs at the same time as improving
safety. Another area where short term cost savings could result
in greater long term maintenance costs is that following a government
ruling local authorities no longer have to grit roads. This is
not only dangerous but there is a view that by allowing the ice
to form on the roads, the damage to roads will accelerate particularly
where there is already some breaking down of the road surface.
Water expands when it turns into ice and where fissures exist,
breaking up of the road surface will occur during this process.
The use of lane rentals is another way of getting
efficiency into the works and providing quality control is maintained,
is beneficial to all concerned. An immense source of annoyance
and frustration to drivers are road works where nothing seems
to be happening and that seem to go on for ages. Proper signage
and helpful and accurate information is essential here.
Planned monitoring and recording of road conditions
are essential factors in the maintenance of the road system and
local authorities have to be given the funding to do this. Very
often the Highways Authorities will de-trunk a road which then
falls to the local authority with insufficient funds to maintain
and without full knowledge of its condition.
Looking to the future
One of the problems with our road system is
that many of them are not designed for the sort of traffic that
they are subjected to. Too many HGV's have to drive through narrow
town and village streets, which means that these roads (and the
surrounding houses) become structurally damaged far earlier than
they would with normal light traffic. There have been many schemes
to by-pass those most vulnerable but a combination of environmental
protesters, economic considerations, planning constraints and
plain anti-road antagonists have prevented many of these from
going ahead. We should re-think this and take a leaf from France's
book and get on and get it done. We would benefit tremendously
as a country as the cost of repairs and maintenance to these types
of roads would be significantly reduced and the efficiency of
long-haul goods delivery be improved dramatically.
Relatively speaking we have a very low motorway
mileage compared with our EU neighbours. Many of our motorways
are operating at over twice their design capacity, which by definition
will result in shorter life spans and shorter intervals between
maintenance operations. This cannot make long-term economic sense.
Another area of concern is the growing shortage
of skills; the Association of Consulting Engineers is only one
of many national organisations that have warned of the lack of
graduates coming into the engineering professions and particularly
the civil engineering profession. There has been a 50 per cent
reduction in engineering graduates since 1994. These graduates
go on to be the planners, designers, supervisors, directors of
the works and many other positions of importance within the construction
industry, employed by local authorities, government departments,
highway agencies, consulting engineers and contractors. We have
to find a way of stemming this flow away from the industry of
its most skilled people. This has to start at primary schools
and some recognition of this is currently underway with the activities
of the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) and its subsidiaries
such as the NCCG (National Construction Careers Group). More has
to be done, and the government can play a big part in this, to
attract young people into a career as an engineer by a greater
recognition of their contribution to society.