The major road network - Transport Committee Contents

Joint memorandum from the Institution of Civil Engineers and Institution of Highways and Transportation (MRN 11)


  The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a UK-based international organisation with over 75,000 members ranging from professional civil engineers to students. It is an educational and qualifying body and has charitable status under UK law. Founded in 1818, the ICE has become recognised worldwide for its excellence as a centre of learning, as a qualifying body and as a public voice for the profession.


  The Institution of Highways & Transportation (IHT) serves the transport profession for the benefit of society and its members. With over 11,000 members, working across a wide range of disciplines, it aims to promote the exchange of knowledge, improve policy formulation, stimulate debate on transportation issues, recognise and develop individual competence (through qualifications and continuing professional development) and encourage best practice in the industry.


    —  The major road network is not realising its full economic, social and environmental potential while it suffers record levels of congestion. A combination of intervention measures such as better public transport and systems of demand management will reduce car use, enabling free flowing traffic to allow people and goods to move quickly and reliably.—  Reactive road maintenance has improved road conditions but does not deliver value for money or improve efficiency, yet reactive work levels are increasing, particularly at the local level. Planned preventative programming provides better value for money and is more efficient.

    —  There should be a symbiosis between increasing road capacity and the management of road space. Targeted network capacity increases should therefore be tied into a system of demand management to secure the benefits.

    —  Increasing public transport capacity is essential to providing attractive alternatives to road use.

    —  Supporting infrastructure should be implemented before the construction of housing developments planned to meeting rising population demands.


1.  Is the current major road network adequate for the needs of the economy and for individuals?

  1.1  ICE and IHT do not believe the UK's major road network is realising its full economic, social and environmental potential—both nationally and locally—while it suffers record levels of congestion, and its management and operational structures are fragmented.

1.2  The UK's major road network is severely congested and reducing it must be a top government priority.

1.3  Forecasts for levels of road traffic in England predicted 29% and 38% increases for the 2015 and 2025 respectively from the level in 2000. The figure for cars and taxis were 27% and 33% respectively. In addition, it is predicted that the number of cars will rise by 40% by 2025 (again from the year 2000).[18] Overall, traffic volumes are growing at far greater levels than the overall length of the road network.

  1.4  This congestion has a negative effect on the economy, environment and our quality of life. Hold-ups on our motorways and trunk roads cost the economy £15 billion every year[19] and according to Eddington, the rising cost of congestion will waste an extra £22 billion of time in England alone by 2025.[20]

  1.5  ICE and IHT agrees with Eddington that investment in transport generally makes economic sense; indeed spending on transport offers very high returns compared with other policy areas. We also agree with Eddington that the economic case remained strong for both public and private investment in new capacity, although most economic benefit is derived from network improvements which are gradual or incremental, and targeted at the existing network.

  1.6  An extensive road building programme is not sustainable on cost or environmental grounds, with alternative measures needed to reduce the growth in traffic volumes. With the possible exception of London, congestion (particularly on motorways and in urban areas) is becoming increasingly problematic with increases in delay and decreases in average traffic speeds and journey time reliability. It will take a combination of intervention measures such as road pricing and better public transport to persuade car drivers to use another mode of travel to allow the road network to fulfil its economic potential by enabling free flowing traffic so people and goods can travel around the country quickly and reliably.

2.  Is the maintenance of the major road network adequate to ensure optimal efficiency?

  2.1  ICE and IHT believe that while reactive and proactive road maintenance has improved the road condition, reactive work is far from delivering value for money or improving efficiency.

2.2  In July 2000, the Government set out a target, using the surface condition defects index, to halt the deterioration in the condition of local roads in England by 2004, defined as non-trunk or principal roads. A significant decrease in the index indicates an improvement in the road condition. Between 2000 and 2006 there was a reduction in the average defects index for English roads (112.5 in 2000 reduced to 91.2 in 2006). The combined defects for England and Wales fell by similar levels, mainly because 90% of all local roads in England and Wales are located in England.[21]

  2.3  There has been a link between the levels of maintenance expenditure on principal roads in England and their surface road condition measured by the defects index. Expenditure remained fairly constant in the early 1990s but was approximately 25% lower towards the end of the decade. Since then, levels of funding have increased, which have been associated with an overall improvement in conditions.

  2.4  Increased funding has delivered an overall improvement, budget shortfalls still exist and inefficient use of the investment on reactive work, is adding to an ongoing backlog of more cost effective proactive maintenance.

  2.5  According to the results of the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey 2008,[22] there is still a shortfall in the principal road structural budget of an average £7.5 million per local authority in England (£4.2 million in London and £3 million in Wales) which constitutes only half of the required budget. At least a quarter of that budget was spent on reactive maintenance (eg repairing potholes), the total cost of which is estimated at £52.3 million across England, London and Wales.[23] This is the clear indication of the cost inefficiency of reactive maintenance. The same amount would have paid to 1,000 lane miles of carriageway to have been completely resurfaced.

  2.6  Reactive maintenance is extremely inefficient yet levels are rising. The ideal proportion of annual budgets dedicated to reactive maintenance is 16% in England, 14% in London and 20% in Wales. However, the average spend in 2007 were 26%, 32% and 23% respectively.[24] According to AIA estimates, reactive work costs as much as 10 times more than a planned maintenance programme.[25] Reactive work rarely tackles the underlying cause of damage, will likely need to be repeated regularly and fails to prolong the life to the road. Planned preventative programming provides a far better value for money and is much more efficient.

  2.7  Another particular problem can be the deep trench excavation carried out by utility companies which can reduce the remaining life of a particular stretch of road by 30% or more. These "utility openings" per local authority can have a real impact on the maintenance budgets and therefore the overall road condition. Premature resurfacing, often on roads which are a patchwork of trench reinstatements, is an extremely inefficient use of funds.

  2.8  In addition there is a problem with considerable highways maintenance backlog. Based on current resources and funding, it will take 11 years in England (excluding London), 10.4 years in London and 16.1 years in Wales to clear carriage way maintenance backlogs.

  2.9  Mirroring continuing budget shortfalls, there is nothing to suggest that there will be any significant reduction in this backlog. If anything, backlog will increase if budgets remain the same, ie 50% of what they should be.[26]

  2.10  In addition, road user safety is at risk from underfunding in asset improvement. This can also lead to expensive user compensation claims; money that could be better spent on proactively improving principal road conditions to avoid such claims.

  2.11  Central government appear to have recognised the value of roads as a national asset and local authorities have been urged to place an equal value to their roads through the implementation of transport asset management plans, which will give them a clearer basis on which to put their case for increased highway maintenance budgets. However, the preparation process of transport asset management plans is complex and time-consuming, putting additional pressures on already busy local authority highways departments.

  2.12  Finally, within the overall investment framework there are artificial hurdles in central government investment and funding decision making processes that stand in the way of delivering efficiency and value for money. In a typical year, for example, providers must cope with the following:

    —  First Quarter: Funding is not confirmed from day one and the list of schemes is short because of the high level of maintenance activity in the preceding Fourth Quarter.

    —  Second Quarter: This is the only time of the year when maintenance schemes are delivered in a controlled manner, ie when the weather is good and better value of money can be acquired through the supply chain.

    —  Third Quarter: This quarter sees a downturn in performance and efficiency and funding streams dry up. While future funding in inevitable, since it is not released until the Fourth Quarter, operations become inefficient.

    —  Fourth Quarter: New funds are released in the New Year, which leads to an annual peak in workload, but at the worst time in respect of the weather and higher prices from the supply chain. Consequently value for money and efficiency are significantly reduced.

  2.13  Funding and the timing of funding decisions are therefore directly related to the efficiency of a principal road maintenance operation. It could be argued therefore that efficient road maintenance is only delivered during 25% of the year. Further effort must be placed on improving the efficiency of road maintenance management and procurement.

3.  To what extent should responsibility for major roads be given to local highway authorities and how much control should the Highways Agency retain?

  3.1  ICE and the IHT believe the giving responsibility for motorways and trunk roads to local authority political control would be a step backwards. The establishment of the Highways Agency and the changes introduced have provided and demonstrated a more coherent and tighter management control of the motorway and truck road network.


4.  What should the relationship be between measures to increase road capacity and measures to manage demand for road space (or example road pricing)?

  4.1  ICE and IHT believe there should be a symbiosis between increasing road capacity and the management of road space. Targeted network capacity increases should therefore be tied into a system of demand management/pricing to secure the benefits.

4.2  A clear link between transport costs and transport funding should be created with at least a portion of the proposed revenue from any road pricing scheme being ploughed directly back into the transport network, to increase public transport capacity and ease pinch points on the major roads network.

4.3  Change can be encouraged in a number of ways, from charging for parking at work and the reallocation and reduction road space for private motor vehicles, to congestion charging and a full road user charging system.

  4.4  A fundamental change in the way motorists pay for journeys, created by the introduction of an up-front payment system and a corresponding reduction in taxes would allow people to effectively measure the direct cost of their journeys against the price of public transport. This flexible system would help nudge people towards a change in their travel habits, easing highway congestion and thus easing road wear and tear. Ring-fencing some of the money raised from a road pricing system could then be used for public transport and highways maintenance budgets.

  4.5  Finally, ICE and IHT support greater use of road space reallocation, eg dedicated bus lanes and high-occupancy vehicle lanes as demand management tools to make better use of existing road space and enhance public transport journeys.

5.  To what extent can alternative modes of transport, travel planning and land-use planning provide alternatives to private car use and road freight?

  5.1  ICE and IHT believe that increasing public transport capacity is essential to providing attractive alternatives to the private car and supports the government strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Rail offers the most practical alternative for inter-urban travel between major towns and cities on radial routes or strategic cross-country routes. However, rail capacity is already severely strained. Patronage has grown by 40% over the past 10 years[27] but rail capacity has failed to increase correspondingly. To become a truly viable alternative, capacity must be increased. For smaller towns or towns not located on the radial national of strategic cross-country network, buses and coaches remain the only viable inter-urban mode of transport other than the car.

5.2  Buses, trams and light rail are excellent modes for intra-urban travel. However, bus travel outside of London has been in decline over the past 50 years. The biggest falls have been in English metropolitan areas where the number of journeys almost halved between 1985-86 and 2006-07.[28]

  5.3  ICE and IHT encourages the government to move forward its plans to reform the bus services operators' grant by removing the link between fuel usage and bus subsidy levels, which would allow the introduction of better targeted support. More frequent, predictable and reliable bus routes would also mean lower waiting times, and mixing stopping and express services would mean a more rational services and quicker journey times.

  5.4  However, improvements to public transport alone will not be enough to dramatically change the way we travel—most of the population are too reliant on cars to adjust immediately. Government must address the culture of car dependency if meaningful grassroots change is to occur.

  5.5  ICE and IHT also support the greater use of travel plans. The 2004 DfT report Smarter Choices helped to publicise and promote what can be achieved by this method. The government has encouraged local authorities, business, hospitals and schools to introduce travel plans to reduce car use. We also believe that the assumption that journeys need to be made in the first be needs to be challenged, and that flexible working practices, such as remote access and video conferencing have a valuable part to play, particularly when packaged together within a workplace travel plan that includes environmentally public transport alternatives when travel is unavoidable.

  5.6  As for freight, rail produces between five and 10 times less carbon per tonne that road transport[29] and over the past six years rail freight has saved an estimated 2 million tonnes of pollutants—equal to 6.4 billion lorry kilometres and 31.5 lorry journeys. In addition, despite being safer and better for the environment than road freight, rail only accounted for 9% of all goods moved in 2006.[30] More must be done, therefore, to increase the attractiveness of rail as an alternative for moving freight.

  5.7  Short-sea shipping—moving goods around the British coast line to their destination, with local ports services a "coastal ring-road"—could provide a vital method of removing some of the pressure freight puts on our congested highways. However, the issue of greenhouse gas emissions from short-sea shipping would need to be addressed in order for the government to meet its and the EU's carbon reduction targets.

6.  How much integration is there between the road network and other modes of transport?

  6.1  Integration between roads and other transport modes is growing, particularly in urban areas and this trend is set to continue. There are also exemplar transport hubs that provide excellent integration between the roads network and other modes of transport, such as Birmingham City Airport.

6.2  ICE and IHT welcomes the Government's proposals within the Local Transport Bill, to create integrated transport authorities (ITAs), which would be compulsory in England's six metropolitan areas and voluntary elsewhere. ITAs will have more powers to manage road space and public transport capacity. However, outside London this control does not go far enough. For example, ITAs will not have the power to define the routes and frequency of buses in order to make them a real alternative to the private car.

  6.3  Transport for London (TfL) is an example of successful cross-modal integration. Since the Greater London Authority (GLA) took responsibility for many modes of city transport, bus use is rising[31] and the introduction of congestion charging appears to have helped reduce the growth of traffic in the city centre.

  6.4  ICE in its recently published State of the Nation: Transport[32] report supported the use of the TfL model elsewhere in the UK, creating authorities with responsibility for all aspects of the planning and enhancement of integrated transport networks.

  6.5  In addition to handing over power to ITAs, government must step back and allow them to manage their own integrated transport solutions.

  6.6  ICE and IHT welcome the government's plans to produce a series of national infrastructure policy statements (NPS) on transport. These NPSs should be used to inform the development of a 30-year integrated transport strategy, which would provide a vital framework in which local decision-making can contribute to overarching goals.

7.  What types of scheme should be prioritised and are current funding mechanisms reflecting these priorities?

  7.1  A balanced portfolio of investment is required to extract the maximum value from the supply chain and best serve the major roads network in the longer term. The decision on which schemes should receive investment should be asset-performance backed. On the national levels, the balanced portfolio should include widening projects, major maintenance schemes and better road management. At the local level, clearing the principal road maintenance backlog through a planned programme should be a top priority.


8.  What are the implications of the Climate Change Bill for the development of the major road network?

  8.1  The Government has committed to reducing the UK's GHG emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

8.2  The Committee on Climate Change is confident that reductions of that size are possible without sacrificing the benefits of economic growth and prosperity. The UK's Climate Change Act makes that commitment, establishing a system of five year "carbon budgets". However, these budgets have not been agreed by government yet so it is unclear what responsibilities the major road network will have to help meet these targets.

8.3  The Committee does, however, see "significant potential for emissions reductions through changed driver behaviour, modal shift and better journey planning".[33] While the Committee has not carried out detailed analysis of the opportunity to reduce surface transport emissions via demand side measures, their estimates suggest a potential to deliver cuts of up to 10 MtCO2 in 2020, if a range of "levers" are deployed.

  8.4  ICE and IHT believe therefore that government should commit to these recommendations, yet at the same time not cut back on essential maintenance and upgrade programmes.

9.  What are the implications of anticipated population growth in the UK, particularly in designated growth areas, for the development of the major road network

  9.1  The UK population is predicted to rise from around 60.6 million in 2006 to 65.00 million in 2016, and 71.1 million by 2031.[34] In order to meeting growing demand the Government introduced plans to build two million new homes by 2016 and three million new homes by 2020.[35]

9.2  However, ICE and IHT are concerned at the lack of planning of transport, including roads, infrastructure to accommodate this new demand. Supporting infrastructure should be implemented before the construction of new homes or at least in conjunction with housing development.

  9.3  While ICE and IHT welcome the £14 billion Government spent on infrastructure in the three main regions of growth (London, the South East and East) during 2006-07,[36] we believe that the UK still faces an infrastructure deficit that requires significant investment across all sectors and in regions other than just the South East and East of England.

10.  To what extent does merging road and vehicle technology (intelligent transport systems) change the requirements for the major road network?

  10.1  ICE and IHT support the investment that is being made in ITS to maximise capacity and operation efficiency, and to inform the public about road conditions and accidents. The Government must continue its dialogue with the ITS industry and related manufacturers, eg the automotive industry, to ensure that the infrastructure supports or provides an enabling platform for technology investment and innovation, by others, to have optimal effect.

January 2009

18   DfT (2007). Transport Trends: 2007 Edition. HMSO, London. Back

19   ICE (2006). State of the Nation. Institution of Civil Engineers, London. Back

20   Eddington, R (2006). The Eddington Transport Study: Main report: Transport's role in sustaining the UK's productivity and competitiveness. HMSO, London. Back

21   DfT (2007). Transport Statistics Great Britain: 2007 Edition. HMSO, London. Back

22   AIA (2008). Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM). Survey 2008). Asphalt Industry Alliance, London. Back

23   AIA (2008). Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM). Survey 2008). Asphalt Industry Alliance, London. Back

24   AIA (2008). Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM). Survey 2008). Asphalt Industry Alliance, London. Back

25   AIA (2008). Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM). Survey 2008). Asphalt Industry Alliance, London. Back

26   AIA (2008). Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM). Survey 2008). Asphalt Industry Alliance, London. Back

27   DfT (2007). Transport Statistics for Great Britain 2007 Edition. HMSO, London. Back

28   DfT (2007). Transport Trends: 2007 Edition. HMSO, London. Back

29   DfT (2007). Transport Trends: 2007 Edition. HMSO, London. Back

30   DfT (2007). Transport Trends: 2007 Edition. HMSO, London. Back

31   DfT (2007). Transport Trends: 2007 Edition. HMSO, London. Back

32   ICE (2008). State of the Nation: Transport. Institution of Civil Engineers, London. Back

33   Committee on Climate Change (2008) Building a low carbon economy-the UK's contribution to tackling climate change. TSO, Norwich. Back

34   Office of National Statistics (2008) Population Trends No 131: Spring 2008 (as at 9 May 2008). Back

35   DCLG (2007). Homes are the future: more affordable, more sustainable. HMSO, London. Back

36   DCLG (2007). Homes are the future: more affordable, more sustainable. HMSO, London. Back

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