Memorandum by the Institution of Highways
and Transportation (RM 10)
THE IHT CONTRIBUTION
The IHT welcomes the Sub-committee's inquiry
into the current state of repair of motorway, trunk and principal
roads in England and principal roads in Wales. The terms of reference
are to consider: the current position; action by Government, the
Highways Agency and Local Authorities; and, possible future improvements.
2. The Institution of Highways and Transportation
The IHT represents over 10,000 professionals
working in the highways and transportation sector in the UK. It
develops and advances professional excellence as one of the UK's
leading learned societies on urban and regional transport and
infrastructure issues. IHT members are involved in planning, designing,
financing, constructing, operating, maintaining and managing transport
Both the present state and future needs of UK
highway maintenance vary with category of maintenance, some categories
being better served than others. This report is thus presented
as a series of sections reflecting these categories. Attention
is also drawn to related issues which bear upon highway maintenance.
The respective Highways Agency and Local Authority positions are
examined within these sections and action by Government suggested
where appropriate. The action points are rounded up at the end
4. Action by Government, Highways Agency
and Local Authorities
There is a marked difference between both highway
stock and maintenance levels and practices as operated by the
HA and by LAs. The HA network represents about 4 per cent of the
total UK highway length but takes about 35 per cent of the traffic.
Additionally, the HA stock represents the most modern roads. Highway
maintenance is not carried out in isolation, the maintenance agencies
interact with other public bodies notably the Police, the Environment
Agency, the Audit Commission, Planning Authorities, Traffic organisations,
Railtrack, London Underground and those utilities using the roads
for their apparatus. The impact of differences in roads, and of
the interaction between agencies, is discussed.
4. Previous IHT submission
The 1996 IHT submission to the Committee found
the condition of many roads markedly worse than a decade previously
and expressed concern for future problems as a result of decreasing
residual life expectancy. This deterioration was attributed to
lack of funding and the industry's tentative efforts to embrace
private finance was welcomed.
A warning was given of the dangers of concentrating
on the inter-urban trunk roads which were found to be in better
condition than local roads. The submission praised the then existing
methods of monitoring and measuring maintenance factors. Concern
was expressed at the skills and level of morale being suffered
by a shrinking workforce. The possibility of increased numbers
and sizes of litigation claims directly attributable to poor maintenance
was raised. Finally, concern over interagency co-operation was
5. Current statistics
The figure quoted below are derived from the
Government Statistical Service Tables or provided by regional
traffic has increased at about 2
per cent per annum since 1996;
no data is available to IHT for road
maintenance sites or openings by the utilities but public perception
is of considerable increase;
the maintained road network has increased
by 2,872 kilometres (0.75 per cent);
overall casualty rates have remained
static or fallen slightly since 1996; and
both national and local budgets showed
a year on year fall during 1996 to 2000 in both capital and revenue
sectors. However, an increase in 2001 is projected.
6. Current position
Targeted funding has eased some problems referred
to in the 1996 submission. In particular, the condition of motorway
and some principal roads has stabilised or improved. However,
the remainder of the road network has continued to deteriorate.
Since 1996 HA road maintenance has greatly benefited from financial
planning spread over several years.
Vehicles of 40 tonne gross weight now use the
motorway and trunk network but can experience difficulties reaching
their final destination. The development of serious safety problems
with the structural integrity of street lighting columns have
been identified. Increased participation by the private sector
has met with mixed success. There has been a marked increase in
dissatisfaction amongst all classes of road user caused by increased
congestion and perceived high taxes.
7. Existing standards
Although there is an increasing percentage of
local and commuter traffic on the trunk and motorway network it
is viewed as carrying through traffic whilst the older LA network
is for local traffic. Furthermore, motorways do not suffer the
restrictions imposed by the activities of the utilities, as do
other roads. The primary source of highway standards in England
and Wales is the Highways Agency which addresses its trunk network.
These standards are often inappropriate or physically or financially
unachievable on LA roads. Nevertheless, LAs are unwilling to opt
for other standards lest they suffer litigation. This can lead
to inaction. The only realistic defence at law, subject to reasonable
diligence, is that an LA did not know of a problem, and inspection
at LA level has all but disappeared.
Whilst many standards, such as signage, need
to be consistent across the country the case for variable maintenance
standards deserves consideration.
8. Financial Resources
The increased funding for highway maintenance
that has recently been announced is to be welcomed, particularly
in view of the longer-term commitments to sustained investment.
However, it is doubtful whether the provision of £30 billion
which has been allocated over the next 10 years will be adequate
to both arrest the deterioration and eliminate the maintenance
backlog on all roads, bridges and street lighting. Nevertheless,
it will certainly enable significant improvements to be made to
the general condition of the highway infrastructure so long as
the funding earmarked for maintenance is actually spent on maintenance.
Whilst funding has now been extended to cover
all local roads and footpaths, the funding of street lighting
column renewal has been deferred until 2003-04 although there
are already serious problems developing which could endanger public
Many public/private sector partnerships of different
types are currently being developed. The increasing development
of performance based contract specifications for maintenance treatments
in particular, and the use of design and construct contracts,
is encouraging innovation and product development.
Maintenance funding derives from capital and
revenue streams with different spending rules. In 1997 the HA
began introducing a new five year plan under which its agents
would know the allocations (in principal) for five years ahead
and maintenance schemes were allowed funding in several years.
This allowed major carriageway and particularly bridge strengthening
projects to proceed with proper design and contract timings, (including
EU notification). This in turn better enabled management to hit
budget and programme targets. The IHT warmly welcomes this development
which has been a big success.
There are proposals to extend this latitude
to LAs in future LTP settlements. The IHT takes the view that
this action would bring universal benefit and supports it as the
way forward. Another benefit which could accrue is that since
the targets are known so far in advance it should be possible
for Government to reduce times to outturn so that more controlled
management may be practised as a result. Another benefit, much
welcomed by the contracting and supply side of the industry, would
be the ability to plan in the longer term.
9. Human Resources
Whilst substantial additional financial resources
are now being provided by the Local Transport Plan settlement
for 2001-02, there are serious concerns as to whether an adequate
skills base exists or can be developed to deliver the programme
as planned. After over 10 years of downsizing and serious financial
constraints, attracting and retaining the right quantity and quality
of professionals and operatives requires investment that is dependent
upon the confidence of a long-term programme of funding for infrastructure
A second concern relates to the need for strengthening
the training and certification requirements for operatives now
that so much maintenance is carried out by commercial contractors
who also undertake other types of work. The live highway is a
dangerous place to work and a lapse by an operative can endanger
many others. The transfer of maintenance work to the private sector,
and the changing attitudes towards professional training, is also
restricting the flow of professionals available to design and
manage the work. The IHT is playing an increasing role in this
latter educational sector, now offering Chartered status for its
members along with a full range of vocational qualifications.
10. Materials and Quality
Highway maintenance is doubly dependent upon
oil, as it is both energy intensive and a significant consumer
of oil based products. Therefore, for both economic and environmental
reasons it is prudent to manage the materials flow within the
industry. Suitable choice of materials contributes significantly
to the quality of life and to urban renaissance. Recycling techniques
are to be encouraged; the IHT would welcome their more rapid acceptance
into mainstream maintenance. Paint and coating systems are now
subject to European environmental legislation. However the certification
and specification process is impeding introduction of new materials.
Both the HA and the LAs have invested substantial
effort into methods of measuring pavement condition and developing
pavement management systems (PMS). There is as yet no coherent
national system but the IHT fully supports the ongoing efforts
to achieve this goal. The systems are able to predict how long
a given stretch of carriageway will continue to provide the quality
of running surface appropriate to the highway. They measure the
underlying strength of the road, not the visible surface defects
(as do the Audit Commission Key Performance Indicators). Visible
defects can normally be fixed by simple and cheap routine maintenance
methods. Once the underlying strength (residual life) has dropped
to zero, expensive reconstruction is the only option. The amount
of damage to the surface layers caused by the (increase in the)
number of utilities' works is not currently quantified and the
IHT recommends that this question be addressed.
Using targeted maintenance funding, Highway
Authorities report significant improvements to the underlying
strength of their carriageways. The HA has been particularly successful
in respect of motorway strengthening at the additional cost of
lengthy roadworks. The IHT welcomes this and urges Government
to continue to support these efforts and to commit funds for the
10 year period to 2010.
Because of the quantities involved carriageway
work consumes over 50 per cent of the highway budget for both
the HA and LAs. Thus the greatest savings are to be won from methods
which reduce the need for materials brought from elsewhere. Despite
several successful trials in the period 1990 to 2000 and over
all parts of the country, Authorities have been slow to take up
recycling methods which can achieve these savings. Part of this
reluctance has been due to the slow development of standards allowing
these methods and the IHT urges action to speed this up.
The HA maintenance manual requires the regular
geotechnical inspection of all cuttings and embankments by suitably
qualified staff. This is to safeguard against landslips. There
is no formal means of recording such inspections, as there is
with structures, and the IHT recommends that such a scheme be
introduced. This is particularly important in times of flood and
high ground water content.
Highway drainage is an integral part of the
overall land drainage requirement for an area. Without proper
drainage every highway will suffer early failure. The floods of
December 2000 amply demonstrate this point. Fundamental new environmental
and drainage legislation was introduced during the 1990s and new
agencies created to handle such matters. Ensuing benefits have
been increased controls on highway operations in watercourses
and the introduction of (petrol) interceptors at outfalls. The
IHT welcomes these environmentally responsible measures but suggests
that co-operation between the agencies could be improved.
In normal operation drainage is the least visible
highway element and therefore the easiest economy in both structural
and routine work. The IHT gave warning of this in their 1996 report
and notes that both the HA and more especially the LAs have made
these economies. Of all highway records, drainage records are
the scantiest. Records for LAs are sometimes non existent whilst
even for many motorways records they are incomplete, lost or unavailable.
The IHT recommends urgent action to correct this situation.
For safety reasons structures receive more intense
scrutiny than other highway elements and much upgrading activity
was carried out in the period 1989-2000. The HA is essentially
at the end of its work to strengthen its bridges to EU standards
but the LA programme is at most 50 per cent complete, with many
new weight restrictions now in force. Also major owners of highway
carrying structures, Railtrack and London Transport, are even
further behind, and in general only offering restrictions rather
than full upgrading. The IHT urges that attention be focused on
sites where key bottlenecks result.
There is currently a disparity of standards
in the required level of containment of errant vehicles by parapets
on modern roads and those which are achievable on older roads.
This has led to either a lack of any action or ugly restricting
barriers at some 35,000 sites around the country. The IHT urges
Government action to resolve this issue.
Well designed street lighting and proper illumination
of signs benefits all users. Illuminated motorways have substantially
lower accident rates; well-illuminated urban areas have lower
crime rates. Lighting maintenance, however, has historically been
regarded as simply paying the electricity bill and replacing the
bulbs and damaged equipment. Both the HA and LAs have funded a
good level of service in the period 1996-2000, despite storm damage
and other disruption to supplies. The IHT recommends the "Code
of Practice for Street Lighting Maintenance" produced by
the CSS and TAG.
The IHT notes, however, the developing problem
of structural integrity of light support columns and therefore
welcomes Government's policy document "Transport 2010A
Ten Year Plan" which recognises this, projecting substantial
funding from 2003. It is essential that the programme of replacement
of weak columns be continued beyond this date. The problem is
simply due to the age of the street lighting columns, many now
at double their design life of 25 years (27 per cent are over
30 years old). Corrosion and other factors cause structural weakness
at the base or light bracket and can lead to collapse of the column.
There are some 6.2 million columns in the UK, representing a replacement
value of £4,000 million. This implies a replacement spending
of £160 million per annum which should be compared with the
current figure of £40 million. No simple and reliable method
exists for determining the structural integrity of columns but
research is underway at TRL to establish suitable methods. The
IHT welcomes this project in view of the gravity and widespread
nature of this problem.
15. Signs, furniture and safety
The UK has long been an international leader
in the promotion and use of these highway elements. In most cases
maintenance is by replacement and standards are well developed.
For signage and road markings, both the HA and LAs are achieving
a reasonable standard of performance. However the IHT is concerned
that the reduced inspection regime now in force will, in future,
extend the time before faults are detected and remedied. Consideration
should be given to upgrading standards for sign supports. More
durable coatings for steel are now available, as are rot-proof
recycled plastics wood substitutes.
The extension of safety fencing to embankment
areas is welcomed, however, attention needs to be focused upon
the time taken to repair damage to existing barriers. Modern rapid
setting materials are recommended to reduce the number of days
lanes are out of service. There have been significant developments
in electronic signing and monitoring in the last decade, for the
control of traffic flow or driver behaviour, or for providing
traffic information. IHT members have been in the forefront of
these developments and now look forward to linking the parts together
to form intelligent transportation systems (ITS). Maintaining
and upgrading these elements in urban environments is more sensitive.
The IHT looks to future improvements in our urban landscape with
more sensitive design of signs and barriers.
16. Routine maintenance
Horticultural maintenance and grass cutting
is now very tightly controlled. Computerised schedules based on
GIS information allow precise definition of the work and it is
very easy to see that it has been carried out. Thus good value
is being achieved. Ditch maintenance is not so well served however.
The IHT suggests the need to co-ordinate ditch, culvert and drain
clearance. Significant claims to adjacent riparian owners have
been paid out as a result of poor ditch maintenance.
Unlike other road fencing, the motorway is the
responsibility of the Highway Authority, thus the HA maintains
some 7,000 kilometres of fence. Current standards do not allow
the use of timber substitutes, made from recycled plastics. These
materials are similar in cost to treated timber, but stronger.
Being rot-proof they also have indefinite life. Many public footpaths
cross rural trunk roads. The HA has a duty, but no definite policy,
to keep these clear and some are obstructed. The IHT recommends
the HA to adopt a clearance policy. There is a summer fire risk
on the verges of rural roads. The IHT recommends a policy of clearing
a suitable firebreak around vulnerable installations, timber stiles
etc. The routine maintenance budget also funds inspections and
minor accident damage.
17. Winter maintenance
Techniques for the control of salting have become
increasingly sophisticated. A salting lorry may now be tracked
by satellite and the opening and closing of its salt gate monitored.
Comparison with the planned route yields valuable management information.
The IHT welcomes the use of such "smart" tools. Recent
winters have been mild and the systems in place have worked adequately.
However, the British weather is particularly unpredictable and
deals us a severe winter about once a decade. We have not experienced
widespread prolonged snow since 1985-86. The happy co-incidence
of milder weather and financial constraint has helped budgets.
Significant salt stocks have remained at the end of each recent
18. Research and Innovation
A significant number of new techniques and processes
have been introduced in recent years. Whilst a reasonable degree
of caution (rather than being dilatory!) needs to be exercised
in view of the potential litigation resulting from failures, the
IHT wishes to encourage such developments. Greatest caution is
required where the failure cost is greatest, as with the Thaumasite
concrete episode in Gloucestershire. The IHT thus welcomes the
continued trials of pavement refurbishment techniques, such as
"crack and seat" before wholesale adoption. Whilst the
IHT supports the financial analysis method of "whole life
costing" it realises that this approach is only valid if
the projected life is accurate. Research is needed to validate
assumptions. The design life of a structure is 120 years, but
the replacement rate in Somerset is 400 years. The design life
of a lighting column is 25 years, but 27 per cent are over 30
years old. The design life of carriageway pavements is 20 years,
but many fail before this. There are situations where innovation
could be profitably accelerated without such risk. The IHT highlight
these elsewhere in this submission.
19. Continued increase in traffic
Traffic has been growing faster (2 per cent
to 3 per cent per annum) than the road network has been expanding
(less than 1 per cent per annum); traffic congestion has continued
to increase. Traffic is increasing because both car ownership
is increasing and because of the increasing number and distance
of journeys required by modern life. This, coupled with the perceived
increasing frequency of road openings, has produced a sense of
severe constriction on our road network and resulted in much driver
frustration. The IHT believes that transportation planning needs
to be considered as a whole and every effort should be made in
local and national plans to find ways of reducing reliance on
private transport. When considering maintenance we should seek
improvements for all users not just those in vehicles. We should
also seek to reduce the impact of the inexorable increase in traffic
on neighbours, for instance by introducing quieter running surfaces.
It is public perception that traffic management
for roadwork has increased dramatically in recent years so that
it is now hardly possible to make a journey unaffected by them.
This has led to a marked increase in driver frustration. Statistics
measuring service level indicators and identifying the major instigators
of this traffic management are not published. The IHT would welcome
the Audit Commissionor others, as suggested in the BRF's
report "Roads to Improvement"making these enquiries
and publishing this data.
21. Other users
Whilst the majority of users of the motorway,
trunk and principal road network drive vehicles, other modes of
transport should not be overlooked. The maintenance network includes
crossing points such as subways and footbridges. There are accommodation
structures for farmers, cyclists and equestrians. Trunk and principal
roads still pass through centres of habitation. Although somewhat
neglected in the past decade experience shows that good maintenance
and sensitive upgrading of these elements encourage use, bring
positive benefits in terms of reduced vandalism and increased
22. Driver discipline
Whilst the annual number of highway accident
casualties continues to fall insurance companies report a steady
increase in the number of damage only claims. Highway authorities
are forced to spend an increasing portion of their budget on schemes
to enforce driver discipline and to pay for damage to highway
installations. Proactive measures to encourage driver responsibility
and consideration for other road users would bring general benefits
to the road system.
23. Vandalism and other forced maintenance
Highways suffer increasingly from vandalism
and accidental damage. Much of the cost of this is not recovered.
Highway authorities have also increasingly seen the need to spend
resources to control driver behaviour. All of this diverts scarce
resources away from needed maintenance and should be targeted
24. Utilities and the New Roads and Street
Enacted in 1991, the New Roads and Street Works
Act replaced previous procedures for interaction between Highway
Authorities and bodies which have the right to place and maintain
apparatus in highways (utilities). The provisions of the Act have
come into force in piecemeal fashion and not been entirely successful.
Utilities' apparatus within motorways are limited to crossings
and do not significantly affect operations. Much of the rapid
expansion of cable communications has been placed into the trunk
and principal road network since 1996. This cabling, having no
need of frost protection, could have been placed in low level
trunking along the road margins rather than at shallow depth within
the carriageways, many of which have, will be in need of reconstruction
within 10 years. The travelling public has also suffered substantial
inconvenience and delay costs due to the traffic management for
these operations. Much of the Act provides guidance rather than
prescriptive procedures so that many systems of recording and
notifying roadworks are now in operation. The Act could be strengthened
to unify procedures and to allow Highway Authorities a controlling
rather than co-ordinating role.
25. Importance of non principal routes
Whilst an improvement in the condition of principal
and trunk roads has undoubtedly been achieved through targeted
capital funding in recent years, the remainder of the local highway
network has continued to deteriorate and has been the subject
of much public concern. Public opinion surveys have invariably
highlighted high public dissatisfaction with the standard of local
road maintenance. In 1996 the IHT drew the Committee's attention
to the electorate's dissatisfaction with deterioration and low
levels of maintenance on non-principal routes. The year on year
decrease in funding during 1995-2000 has exacerbated that situation.
In January 2001 of 30 letters published in one county newspaper
seven were complaints about road maintenance or drainage issues.3
The backlog of local road maintenance was recognised in the Government's
strategy document "Transport 2010A 10 Year Plan"
and a funding allocation for local roads was included for the
first time in the Local Transport Plan settlement for 2001-02.
The Motorway, Trunk and Principal highways considered represent
only 12.4 per cent of the total highway in England and Wales.
For these reasons the IHT again urges the Committee to consider
this aspect of the road maintenance.
26. Abnormal load routes
The scheme in use today for the movement of
abnormal loads was originally drawn up in the 1960s and is now
seriously outdated. The scheme only really caters for vehicular
gross weights without regard to vehicle dimensions. In particular,
there are no "official" routes to over 85 per cent of
destinations in the UK. There have been many instances of loads
being too high or too wide to pass their intended routes. In addition
to Highways Authorities many Agencies from the Police to the Nuclear
Inspectorate may be involved in the passage of a given load, sometimes
resulting sub-optimal planning. Some hauliers overload the notification
process by "block booking" ghost loads so they will
have a slot when a real one is contracted. The IHT urges fundamental
restructuring, led by Government, to provide the country with
a twenty first century approach.
27. Need for continued high level of support
It is essential that a long-term continuous
programme of increased funding is provided if the planned improvements
to the condition of the nation's transport infrastructure are
to be achieved and problems such as those that have developed
on the railway network due to under-funding are to be avoided.
Such a programme is also necessary to create confidence again
in the industry enabling a skilled workforce to be developed and
retained, investment to be made in plant and adequate resources
of materials to be identified. It is further essential for Government
to resolve differences between the interests and procedures of
all the agencies involved. In particular the IHT urges action
on the following points:
action to ensure that inspection
and record keeping in all aspects at least matches those with
actions to revise the standards and
certification process to allow techniques and materials appropriate
to the class of road concerned and to allow more rapid introduction
of new techniques and materials;
the introduction of new key performance
indicatorsor level of service standardsfor roadworks
and highway element life expectancies;
regular testing and scrutiny of winter
emergency plans, along with adequate resourcing;
action to control activities on highways
by strengthening the New Roads and Streetworks Act and greater
education and testing for drivers;
action to manage abnormal and emergency
routing more effectively; and
support for educational and training
initiatives for personnel engaged in highway maintenance.
The IHT would welcome the opportunity to present
oral evidence if the Committee would find it of assistance in
conducting its enquiry.
1. Highways Agency Business Plan.
2. Government Statistical Service.
3. Somerset County Gazette 12 January 2001.
4. Northamptonshire Highway Network Maintenance