Tag Archive | "road maintenance"

Road Toll Update: Parts 1 & 2

Road tolling. Brings a whole new meaning to the expression ‘charging along the road’, doesn’t it? Around the time of the last election the now Prime Minister stated that there would be no toll charges on existing roads. In fact, he meant existing unimproved roads. Aha. Any existing road that receives substantial ‘enhancement’ (an official word with a variety of meanings) is fair game. When you take into account this government’s intention of ‘increasing investment in strategic roads through greater use of private capital’, you can get a clearer idea of what’s in store.

Following a report about alleged tolling of parts of the A14, the A303 and a few others where ‘enhancement to increase capacity’ was suggested, subsequent investigation has highlighted considerably more information. It should be mentioned that the government has said that tolling can only take place ‘where an alternative route would be available for local traffic’. Eagled eyed readers will have noted that nothing is mentioned of through traffic.

It looks very much as if we should all make sure our sat-nav’s are up to date and set to avoid toll roads. That should make for a few interesting diversions; and especially so because, as it now turns out, there are around two hundred new road schemes in the planning system countrywide, so expect some Swampy-like protests to be up and running in the not too distant future. (History fans: Swampy was a mud-encrusted protester and tunnel builder from 1996 in the battle to stop the Newbury By-Pass. Ultimately the protesters failed but have been proved right as the road has not been anything like the success it was supposed to be and accidents rates have risen since it opened).

With a sort of wearying inevitability the Department for Transport said that ‘new roads were vital to prosperity’; but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? In the meantime a millionaire businessman has pledged to support the fighting funds of any viable community groups that are set up to oppose these forthcoming schemes.

Of the many proposals, arguably the most significant are for a new motorway across the Peak District National Park and ‘enhancements’ to the A30 and A303 in the West Country. Stonehenge will never be the same again. To this you can add a Hastings – Bexhill link road which passes within a few metres of an important nature reserve.

No doubt the pro’s and con’s will be debated at length as these things proceed but there is unquestionably the acrid whiff of politics behind it all. Do we need more roads or just better ones? Should they spend money building more roads when they can’t maintain the ones we’ve got? Like the man who drank too much syrup of figs – this one will run and run.


And, in fact, it has. The latest news report is that any new road building or major ‘enhancement’ may well be franchised out to foreign capital. The Department for Transport is apparently looking at ‘new funding models’. Most commentator’s are sceptical, and rightly so. It has been reported that the M6 toll road – operated by Midland Expressway – has suffered a £41 million loss. How many foreign investors are going to be impressed by that? Yet they shouldn’t worry as the government has come up with a suggested solution that is so bizarre as to merit their immediate sectioning.

Are you sitting down? It seems that the way to encourage investment is to ensure potential investors that if tolls fell below an agreed level then the treasury would pay them the difference, probably out of road tax funds. Effectively this means that drivers could be paying twice to use the same piece of road at any one time. Does this, or does this not, beggar belief? What’s worse is that they get away with a similar arrangement on the railways already; but it’s not quite the same as rail users don’t have a route choice; drivers do.

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Pothole App

It had to happen, didn’t it? Our American cousins in Boston have been trying out some smartphone software that automatically detects potholes, the bane of British drivers. According to a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance – whose work is considered to be the most accurate assessment of the state of our roads – reckons that local authorities face a shortfall of £895m in road maintenance budgets. At the same time motoring groups say that, with the rise in VAT and the inflated fuel prices, it appears that the Treasury has trousered some £4 billion since the Coalition took office. As they insist on saying in the USA – do the math.

The App is being tested by New Urban Mechanics, a division of the Boston mayor’s office and it’s going to be launched in the city this Spring. It is called ‘Street Bump’. It detects the location and size of offending craters as you drive over them using a motion sensor and GPS. When a car drives over a pothole or sunken manhole it pinpoints where it is. The driver then has the option to press a button and send the data to the local highways department. Apparently it works really well.

UK councils don’t, unsurprisingly, seem terribly keen on the idea. As many of you have experienced, one of the defences of local government to pothole damage claims is that they were unaware of it, so couldn’t possibly be responsible. Just think. All responsible drivers communicating, in their local area, whenever they encounter a defect. Council’s wouldn’t have a leg to stand on and the cost to them of compensation claims would go through the roof! That might encourage a bit more action on road surface repair from local and national government alike.

The Local Government Association put it differently, as you might expect. They are said to be ‘uneasy’ about the amount of information overload as this full quote states:

“Councils will always try to make the best use of technology to improve services, but an automatic alert system which reports every little undulation risks being more of a hindrance than a help. Highways departments could end up being inundated with thousands of new reports each day about potholes they are already aware of, taking hours for officers to sift through.”

The Street Bump developer points out, however, that local authorities could save time and money spent on surveying roads. By collating the data they could recognise specific problems as drivers on the same road create a ‘map’ of the problem. This would also get around any false or malicious one-offs. It’s not as if the Government don’t have the money! Surely that is what ‘Road Tax’ is for?

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The Cost of Road Maintenance to Drivers And Utilities

Our beloved councils, who are responsible for about 90% of our road network, have been told to save many millions from their road maintenance budget in line with Department for Transport spending guidelines. Anyone whose wheel has plummeted into a crater on the road will know how they feel about this. Even Margaret Hodge, the fearsome chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee sees the motorists point of view. She said:

“The Department doesn’t fully understand what impact its cuts to road maintenance will have on the state of UK roads. My committee is concerned that short-term budget cutting could prove counterproductive, costing more in the long term as a result of increased vehicle damage and the higher cost of repairing the more severe road damage.”

She went on to say that there were many ‘unanswered’ questions about the DfT’s plans. The Highways Agency which is responsible for the other 10% of roads – the major ones – has already had to pay out £2.5 million in compensation for damage and injury. A committee of MPs has concluded that this short-term thinking will increase the costs of road repair to the taxpayer in the long run. The President of the AA, Edmund King is on record as saying:

“”All road users…will be concerned at any prospect of deteriorating roads. In the past we have applauded the Highways Agency for the efficient maintenance of motorways and trunk roads which generally are kept in a better state than local roads. Potholes can blight roads and are particularly treacherous for those on two wheels. The AA has seen an increase in the number of call-outs due to tyres, suspension and steering problems which could all be linked to potholes. As drivers are paying billions of pounds in various motoring taxes, they expect to be able to drive on main roads bereft of potholes. The last thing we want is a vicious circle where the declining state of roads leads to more claims for compensation due to damage and injury, which in turn means less spending on roads.”

That just about says it all, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Norman Baker has decided to rake in more cash by penalising the Utilities if they take too long with road works. Companies must agree a time frame for the work with the local council. If they overstay the agreement then they have to cough up a fine – currently up to £2500 a day. From October this year that will rise to £5000 a day for the first three, then up to £10000 thereafter. Note the interesting point that councils ‘must spend overrun charge income on implementing transport policies’. Having seen some crackpot local ‘initiatives’, that could mean anything.

The Local Government Association will tell you that, despite the cuts, they are actually spending more on road repairs but the reality doesn’t seem to match up. Our roads are in need of a massive cash investment, but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime watch out for those potholes!


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