Tag Archive | "road maintenance"

Driving Between The Lines

It seems hard to understand but new research seems to show that removing the white lines down the middle of the road actually reduces speeding.

These findings have come out of government work to reassess road markings and street furniture generally because, they believe, drivers are being confused by the plethora of signage out there. For now, this page will ignore the issue that they clearly think that most of us are as thick as two short planks and look at what they are up to.

Transport for London – for it is they who are doing this work – believe that by removing central white lines that separate two lanes of opposing traffic will result in a significant decrease in the speed of vehicles. They are suggesting that rubbing out lines will ‘introduce an element of uncertainty into the minds of motorists’, thus causing us to slow down. It’s like some sort of reverse Pavlovian exercise.

They’ve tried it on three roads in London. At all three test sites it was shown that traffic slowed down. The biggest decrease on the Seven sisters Road was by just over four miles per hour.

Their psychology appears to suggest that we motorists think that white lines, hatching and the like, provide some sort of magical barrier over which cars on the other side cannot cross. They take no account of the fact that most drivers don’t trust any other drivers on the road to do anything right and are, therefore, alert to dangers, but there you are. Such is their opinion of the great unwashed public.

This all stems from finding out in the bosky avenues of Wiltshire in 2003 which appear to show similar reductions in accidents. If it was so good then, how come it hasn’t been picked up earlier? This is another knee-jerk reaction to the perils of speed because, as we know, officials like to blame speed for all motoring ills, seemingly forgetting about the phone users, texters and all the myriad other reasons why people have accidents.

Most drivers have mostly become inured to the constant fiddling with the rules of the road but pretty soon now they are going to take umbrage for being treated like idiots. Mind you, they have got one thing right – there are indeed too many unnecessary signs.

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The Advantages Of Potholes

That’s got you thinking, hasn’t it? What, you might well be asking, is there anything good in any way about potholes? Well, some very clever people have realised that, in a similar way that energy can be reclaimed from vehicle braking, it is possible to recover energy generated when a car goes over any sort of bump.

In a purely non-scientific assumption, it seems reasonable to assume that any action generates energy. In this case apparently, it is possible to convert the energy developed in the suspension dampers into electricity as we know it, which is then fed to the car’s system to help the power drain caused by headlight use and air conditioning systems. We know this sort of thing works.

As you can imagine, should any vehicle manufacturer decide to bring something of this ilk to their future vehicle production then UK drivers would benefit more than most as British roads are increasingly not unlike abandoned goats tracks in Nepal.

It has been estimated that last year the nation’s highways had no fewer than 2.2 million potholes. That’s quite a lot. In fact it is alleged that we have managed to achieve the disgraceful number of six per mile of road on average. Did you know that Honda built an especially rutted test track in Japan to better enable them to test the cars heading for our shores?

Not only would this new regeneration system work with potholes, it would be equally successful with speed humps. This idea is being seriously engineered by an American/German partnership and in testing it does actually work. This is the only single occasion when it is possible to say that bad roads are good. Even on those smooth freshly surfaced EU funded heavenly highways of the Continental mainland even very small ripples would have a regenerative effect. So it’s all good news then.

Or is it? Apparently, UK motorists stump up around a million quid a day to repair wheels, axles and suspension damaged by potholes. Everybody knows how notoriously hard it is to get money out of those responsible for our roads so it’s the good old insurers who are often having to foot the bill with the inevitable subsequent rise in premiums. This is without even thinking about the risk to health caused by accident potential. A car would have to do some really serious energy regeneration to recover those costs for the blighted drivers of Britain.

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The Spare Pound In Your Pocket

Schimpf! Do you recognise that sound? You have in fact heard it before. Quite often in modern times as a matter of fact. It is the sound of the thin end of the wedge being slipped between you and what‘s left of your money.

In that disingenuous and backdoor way that governments have of dishing out some more bad news on the back of good news, the Treasury, by means of its Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, has announced that a section of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon is to be improved and subsequently tolled.

This came as part of the spending review proposed last week which included plans for some £28billion of ‘once in a generation’ projects to modernise our road system. The decision to carry on with the mooted tolling option was slipped in on page 74 in an appendix.

The AA have already said that this will not go down well with motorists. In their opinion and no doubt in our opinion too, motorists have already paid for the roads so why the heck should they pay for them again? To answer this criticism, the government have said that there will be a non-tolled road for local traffic.

So that presumably means that every other driver who might have to travel that way will surely avoid this road because it is for locals only! The government might as well hope that the economic situation will shortly be sorted out by the passing of some pink flying pigs (Their preferred option). There may well be some well-heeled people or folk on an urgent mission who might cough up but I think the government might well find that the local road will suddenly become very busy.

The minister confirmed that this very congested stretch of road will be upgraded from a dual carriageway to three lanes either side. This is a good thing as it is a notorious route. The bad news is that it will cost a quid to use it. This is them being a bit clever. One pound, as everybody knows, does not go a long way. They presumably hope that most will say’ ‘Well, it’s only a quid’ and chuck the coin in the bin.

The other reason that it was quietly announced and is a relatively low fee is that the government is very nervous about their cunning plan. They wonder if motorists might take umbrage that they are again being targeted. The answer is of course a resounding and blindingly obvious yes.

Unquestionably there is a need for the many congested areas of our highway system to be refreshed and renewed to keep the traffic flowing. Tax payers know that this will cost huge sums of money but they also know that the roads have been chronically under-funded for decades as ministers bereft of economic ideas continue to plunder the road pot.

It is no mystery why that which we all once knew as ‘Road Tax’ is now commonly called ‘Vehicle Excise Duty’. See what they did there? Make no mistake – they might be reticent about introducing this now but it really is the thin end of the wedge. If motorists accept this the exercise will be repeated. And repeated.

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More Motorway Misery

It is the view of the pessimist that, just when you think that life can’t get any worse, it does. It would not be unreasonable therefore for the average motorist to be pessimistic about the state of our roads. Thought they couldn’t get any worse? Read on:

In order to save money the Highways Agency – subject to a shrinking budget just like the rest of us – has decided that road maintenance will be reduced and that works that have previously be undertaken at night when the roads are quieter will now be done during the day as a cost-cutting measure.

To be fair, it has rather been forced upon them by swingeing cuts to funding. For the period 2014-15 their budget has been slashed by twenty percent, down from £883m to £663m. A new government spending review is due out shortly which is believed to contain further cuts for the year following. Presumably the Chancellor comes up with these ideas whilst wiping succulent grease from his chin after another slap-up feast at the Mansion House at our expense.

Contractors will be asked to make substantial savings and they in turn will have greater freedom to do the work when and how they please. The word ‘how’ is the worry here because tightening budgets could lead to inferior work and materials as contractors strive to maintain profits.

This is also likely to mean a return to large scale traffic jams as road lanes are closed at peak times. Motoring organisations say that this could cost the economy millions. Essentially, the approach will be to lower all standards to the barest minimum of safe levels.

This means that works that needs doing now will be put off until when and if ‘it is most cost effective’ to fix them. These measures are being put in place despite the fact that our major roads and motorways are already causing problems. Speed restrictions are being introduced on some main roads because of the poor condition of surfaces.

There is talk that, where work is essential on a three lane highway, that only the inner (where wear and tear is greatest) and middle lanes will be repaired. Outer lanes may not be touched whilst there is ‘any residual life’ left in them.

Thanks to the lobbying of car-hating organisations and views of the latest Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLaughlin – which differ so much from his predecessor – the government has put the notion of an 80mph motorway limit on the back burner.

As it turns out, this might probably be just as well if our major routes are going to continue to deteriorate. So enjoy the coming Summers, trapped in mighty tailbacks with squalling, overheated kids whilst some workmen apply loose chippings and a bit of spit to the road surface. This is your driving future. Sorry to be so pessimistic.

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Opinion – Taking A Fly Swat To Godzilla

In an announcement from the Transport Secretary, the government is going to cough up £165 million to help deal with traffic bottlenecks at various locations around the country. Sixty two schemes in total form the second wave of the so-called Local Pinch Point Fund. This money is to be augmented with local contributions.

Anyone who has any knowledge at all about road building and maintenance costs will know that this is a drop in the ocean. To put it into perspective, in 2011 the BBC reported that one single mile of motorway costs £30 million to build. The quoted £165m would therefore only be enough to deliver the equivalent of just five and half miles of road. It’s peanuts.

The work will include upgrading key roads, bridges and traffic hotspots. The aim is make life easier for the thousands of motorists and business who use local roads daily. Very laudable but it doesn’t really address the whole issue of our third world roads and the many unattended potholes that litter them.

With the usual breathtaking audacity of government guesswork they reckon that the schemes ‘had the potential’ to ‘help’ create more than 100,000 jobs and a similar number of ‘new homes’. Eh? These are the sort of numbers that are usually trotted out to give credence and justification to expenditure. They rarely ever come to anything.

In the South East, twelve schemes have been given a £42m green light and will include a ‘hamburger’ style roundabout with a carriageway through its centre which will alleviate the problems at the dreaded Milton Interchange on the A34 in Oxfordshire. Actually, that is a good idea.

The money is, it has to be said, being spread very thinly. That’s a lot of schemes and some of them seem to be a little under-funded. In the manner of these things it could just possibly result in an overspend. It would be wrong for Motor Blogger to carp too much; after all, at least some money is being spent to make our roads better.

Some of the bottlenecks mentioned have been in need of sorting out for years, so it’s a good thing. The snag is that it is not nearly enough. More money needs to be spent on making road surfaces better and thus safer and less money needs to be spent on massive vanity projects like the £33 billion (and the rest) HS2 rail link which has already cost the tax-payer £50m in bad management before even a blade of grass is has been cut.

We want money spent on our roads but £165m is like watching Godzilla rising from the sea and expecting to beat him back with a fly swat. The issue is much bigger than just some local bottlenecks problems.

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The State Of Britain’s Roads

Sometimes we might well wonder if our European masters have any awareness of the word ‘parity’. We also might wonder if our representatives were behind the door or in the car park having a fag when the money pot was opened (that we helped fill) and cash for roads was handed out.

Here’s an example. If you drive from Motril on the coast of Southern Spain and head up country to Grenada you will use the A44/E902 route (pictured). This is one of the finest pieces of smooth blacktop you will ever see, winding up through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to that historic city. This road project was EU funded. We helped pay for it. Spain has many such roads. Certainly their economy is even worse than ours but all this happened before the current crisis.

We take you now to the beautiful country of Poland which, until recently, was in receipt of a 770 million pound (equivalent) funding exercise for road building projects until it was established that there was, basically, a bit of fiddling going on – some creative accounting, as it were. The upshot of this crookedness is that ultimately the cost to British taxpayers will be something in the order of £100 MILLION!

Moving on to more familiar territory, we arrive on a section of the A21 near Tunbridge Wells where, tragically, a young woman lost her life in a skid during heavy rain. Her sister was badly injured. The road surface was found to be entirely the reason for the crash following a botched re-surfacing job four years earlier.

This was a tragedy that need not have happened. It is now known that the Highways Agency and local officials had been aware of this dangerous road for up to two years prior given that there had been a spate of accidents. A year before this accident, one local resident demanded that a skid resistant surface be laid ‘before someone gets killed’. No action was taken and it took the death of this poor young woman to get a reaction from those responsible.

Authorities tell us that millions of potholes have been repaired. This is true but there is still plenty more that haven’t; but it isn’t just potholes, it is road surfaces in general. Our roads are in a terrible state because of decades of under-funding that has failed to keep pace with the volume of cars on the road. Where, in other words, is our EU road-funding package?

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Claiming For Pothole Damage To Cars

It’s an ongoing saga. Every year the harsh winter weather damages our roads and causes the dreaded potholes. Every year motorists complain and every year little or nothing is done to alleviate the problem. Government and Councils cite lack of funds blah, blah, and the saga continues.

The root cause of this problem is the neglect of our roads over decades as money that should be spent on maintenance has been diverted to other areas, thus ensuring a plentiful supply of premium biscuits at council meetings and town-twinning trips to somewhere nice and warm. Fact finding is vital to the running of local councils, clearly.

Well, here’s a couple of facts. At the time of writing this, it is reported that there are 19,000 different sets of road works currently ongoing around the country. Also during 2013 some two million potholes will be attended to. This is being used as evidence that action is being taken on roads – which is good – so why is that British drivers are reporting that road quality is not improving? Twenty two percent have further stated that highway repairs actually make the road surface worse and sixty one percent still reckon that road quality is declining! Something’s wrong.

The answer can surely only be that the repairs themselves are being done on the cheap to dress up the ravages of time, wear and tear, like cheap make-up on an ageing drag queen. Nothing will change until some major investment takes place and in the meantime hard-pressed motorists must present their claims for compensation to the implacable stone face of local government.

This is a problem that all aggrieved drivers come up against. Tell your local council that their negligence has caused costly damage to your car and they will if at all humanly possible absolve themselves of responsibility based on Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. (Note: It’s too long for this article but you can read it here).

Claimants have to persevere and keep their cool. Don’t immediately rush to court or hire a solicitor – if you are going to get anywhere it is going to be a long hard road. Ensuring safety as a priority, take a photo of the pothole, measure it, and, if possible, show the proximity of the car and also the damage to your car. Report the whole thing to the council. Submit a Freedom of Information Act request to ascertain how frequently the road is inspected and maintained. There are standards that councils must abide by. You will also want to know how many previous complaints there have been about that pothole and that stretch of road.

If the powers that be have stuck to the rules then your chances of making a successful claim are supermodel slim. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it your best shot. A trawl of the internet will quickly highlight a number of organisations devoted to helping you fight the scourge of potholes. Read avidly.

The knowledge that the people responsible for the job can so easily absolve themselves of blame is a hard thing to take but paying possibly hundreds of pounds for damage not of your making is also a bitter pill. Motorists have rights too. Make sure you stand up for yours and also make sure your local Member of Parliament is kept fully informed. It is only by keeping up the pressure that we can achieve the goal of enjoying decent roads which we do, after all, pay for.

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Death On The B-Roads

Sometimes your satnav will go rogue and take you off blindly down narrow country lanes, usually when time is of the essence. Sometimes though, the outcome can be a delight when new vistas open up before you or a discreet country pub is discovered. You just never know. There was a time when a exploratory drive in the country was a Sunday afternoon staple; unfortunately these days you might get more than you bargained for.

As you are all too well aware, a few years ago governments and councils suddenly discovered that they had been spending our money in a profligate manner for decades and had run out of cash. Whilst first making sure they retained their jobs, those in power reacted with indignity – as if someone else had been responsible – and immediately instigated wholesale budget cuts.

One result of this is that deaths on minor roads are rising as councils (who are responsible) ignore them in favour of more eye-catching spending initiatives. Department for Transport figures show that in the twelve months to September last year the number of serious or fatal accidents on minor roads rose by five percent on the previous year. In the same period, accidents on motorways and A-roads fell by nine percent.

In 2010, over one thousand souls perished on our rural roads. The figure for major roads was just shy of four hundred. Road safety charities state that this shows that not enough is being done to protect B-roads users.

With a wearying sense of inevitability The Local Government Association blames government cuts. Apparently, the cash handed down by the Whitehall mandarins has been reduced in real terms by £500m. This may well be so, but someone has finally got to own up. Our road safety minister states that it has been made easier for councils to implement 20mph speed limits but doesn’t say what that has to do with rural roads.

The tragic figures above are fair warning. Proper B-road maintenance is poor to almost non-existent. Surfaces are in bad condition and potholes abound and these things could well be responsible for the rise in accidents, at least in part. It is clear that not enough money is being spent.

In the meantime privatisation of the roads, like a night-time mugger, is creeping closer. In the manner of governments in recent years the answer seems to be to hive off responsibility to private companies instead of doing the job properly themselves. This is turn will herald more road charging as if we don’t pay enough already. If tolls or other charges are instigated on Britain’s primary roads then cash-strapped drivers will head for the B-roads instead. What, do you think, will be the outcome of that?

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Pothole Crisis Continues

Recent news has reported the planned second stage of the high-speed rail link to and from the North of England and the South. The cost is estimated to be in the order of £36 billion.

You just know, don’t you, that this figure will prove to be wildly optimistic – because they always are to make the deal more appealing – when the true amount will no doubt be very considerably more.

Still, it is not for us to debate the rights and wrongs of this here except to point out that Britain’s motorists will be justified in feeling a tad aggrieved when they are driving on roads not fit for purpose. The misery of roads that we, the tax paying car owners, have paid for over and over again goes on.

The blame is being placed in part on the way potholes are repaired. There has probably never been as good a use of the word ‘short-termism’ than when it is applied to pothole repairs. For years now those responsible have relied on cheap, brittle and porous Stone Mastic Asphalt rather than doing the job properly with hardwearing Hot Rolled Asphalt.

So, although the former is the cheaper option, the fact that the repair has be done over and over again means that the long-term cost probably isn’t much different. This penny-pinching gross underinvestment has left the UK with a backlog of pothole repairs and it is hard to see how this can be rectified without a major roads programme, which of course brings us full circle because it will probably never happen.

Government cuts will continue to leave councils short of the readies as they try to allegedly balance the books. In the meantime the potholes get deeper and more serious as time goes on. It is not as if this applies only to quieter B roads; the problem is becoming increasingly widespread on major routes and every time the work gangs turn up, traffic is slowed or even gridlocked whilst the repairs are carried out.

Our recent weather patterns haven’t helped with snow and heavy rain getting into the cracks and crevices of sloppily repaired road surfaces; freezing, thawing and lifting the surface. The only solution is to do the job properly once and for all which is what all of Britain’s drivers want as it will save them having to put in claims for damage to councils who could be spending the money on road repairs – and so it goes on. £36 billion ought to do it.

Never mind, if it becomes impossible to use the roads we’ve always got the railways to fall back on, especially as we’ll have the new high-speed line in a couple of decades time. You can use these trains instead – assuming you can afford the tickets.

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The Shame Of Britain’s Roads

The British government’s rail minister has been pilloried for refusing to commute from his Essex home on the railways because he prefers a chauffeur driven limo at your expense (est. cost £80k p.a.) instead. This is surprising because the roads in this country are in such a state that crossing the remote Himalayas on the back of an arthritic donkey seems like a more appealing prospect than driving from Chelmsford to London.

The roads in this country are, as you well know, in a poor state. The latest news is that, as the floods subside, more potholes than ever will be revealed as allegedly cash-strapped councils and the Highways Agency fail to keep up with the work of putting back that which nature removes. What’s worse is that some of the flooding has been so bad that whole sections of tarmac have been swept away meaning that road closures will be more common whilst the inevitable funding ‘issues’ are resolved.

Potholes are probably unavoidable (in both senses of the word) but better, more lasting repairs and improved road building techniques might help to alleviate the problem but that simply isn’t going to happen. The number of car-damaging craters is expected to rise to in excess of two million and the authorities can’t cope. It is a sorry state of affairs.

What has happened to our road infrastructure must be a bit of a joke around the world. Sparsely populated areas of Spain have far better road surfaces than us thanks to EU grants funded in part by British taxpayers, as any European traveller knows. Most of us are unlikely to ever be lucky enough to visit the more remote areas of mainland China but we now know that their roads are better than ours too.

We have been made aware of this by the Dongfeng Motor Corporation – China’s second biggest motor maker – who have been testing a prototype van over here because, they say, our roads are worse than theirs! Closer to home the Ford Motor Company have apparently surveyed a battered stretch of road near Basildon to enable them to build an artificial track in Belgium to better test the suspension on their cars. It would be funny if it were not true.

The Local Government Association have been quoted as saying that even when all the post-weather assessments have been made, repairs will still be delayed because we can’t afford it. Where is all the money that we pay out in road tax and sundry other motoring levies? Perhaps some of it is siphoned off to help fund our expensive rail network that ministers aren’t using? Whatever, it isn’t being spent where it should be, and that is maintaining a road network that right now would be derided in any so-called third world country.

The answer is of course to rent an under-used donkey from a sanctuary. It won’t be as fast of course but it may manage your commute to work without breaking its suspension.

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