Hawking was right, but it’s our roads that are disappearing
More than 24,400 miles of road are identified as needing essential maintenance this year, according to the ALARM (Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance) survey.
It is somewhat ironic that in the month that Prof Stephen Hawking, the leading authority on Black Holes, passed away, that the very real black holes on our road network are causing even more problems. It is believed that 20% of the country’s roads are in such a poor structural condition that they have ‘less than five years’ life remaining’. It will come as no surprise to most motorists, and local authorities in England and Wales are reporting the gap between the funds they received and the amount they actually needed to keep the carriageway in reasonable order was almost £556 million – a shortfall of £3.3m for every authority. But what is more of a concern is that it would now take 14 years – up from 12 years in 2016/17 – to get local roads back into a reasonable steady state, and that’s on the proviso that adequate funds and resources were available to do so.
Rick Green, chairman of the AIA, said: “Although local authorities report an increase in average highway maintenance budgets this year, looking back over the last decade they have barely kept in line with inflation.”
“We accept that there is no magic wand to wave, nor is there a bottomless pot of money to tap into.”
The local road network is a vital asset, worth in the region of £400 billion, but funding for its adequate maintenance has fallen short for so many years that further deterioration is inevitable, according to Green. Government continues to squeeze local authority funding, while yearly inflation figures remain above 2%, and then figure in the costs of Brexit, and treasury money going towards repairing our local roads system seems to be driven increasingly beyond the horizon.
“We accept that there is no magic wand to wave, nor is there a bottomless pot of money to tap into. ere are difficult choices to be made at both local and national level, but the Government needs to provide adequate funding for a well maintained and safe local road network if it wants to support communities and drive economic growth,” says Green.
Key facts from the study, include: the average time before a road is resurfaced in England is 92 years, 31 years in London and 71 years in Wales; and the estimated one-time cost to get roads back into reasonable condition is £9.31bn – £72.3m per authority in England, £14.6m in London and £27.4m in Wales. e report also reveals that there were 1.5 million potholes filled across the country, while the total cost of road user compensation claims (individuals claiming for damage to vehicles due to potholes) rose above £30m.
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes described the funding shortfall “as enormous as ever”. “It’s time for some fresh thinking,” he added. “Short term funding and creating pots by which local authorities can bid for cash doesn’t appear to be addressing the root cause of the problem. Instead, the Government should be looking at how it can guarantee councils the certainty of reliable long-term funding so that they can finally bring every road up to a standard road users think is acceptable.”
In two years’ time, motorways and major roads will enjoy ring-fenced funding from Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) receipts. Lyes said: “If just a fraction of existing fuel duty revenue was ring-fenced specifically for local roads, over just a few years enough could be raised to allow councils to make proper, lasting repairs that are fit for the 21st century. “As things stand, all road users are faced with the prospect of road surfaces falling into an even worse state, making for increasingly uncomfortable, expensive and, in some cases, downright dangerous journeys.” Following the ‘Beast from the East’ which ran amok since the ALARM report was put together, the tarmac torture will have become even more unbearable, continuing the deterioration.
Andrew Hugill, director, policy & technical affairs at the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, said: ‘It is clear we need to look at wider solutions. ‘Highways, streets and the value they bring to the economic health and social wellbeing of all our communities needs to be recognised across government. is isn’t just a transport issue: highways that work well enable our society to function properly and help create better places.’ Simon Benson, of AA Cars advised motorists to ensure “tyres are inflated to the recommended pressure”, avoiding “swerving and braking suddenly” and said that “heavy braking compresses the front suspension, which can place more weight and shock on the tyre and suspension as it strikes the pothole.” e practical realities of deteriorating roads for drivers have been highlighted by new research from Kwik Fit. Potholes were found to have caused damage to vehicles costing a total of £915 million to repair, an increase of 34% on the figure of £684 million two years ago. While the average cost of repairing the damage to components including tyres, wheels, suspension and bodywork has risen only slightly (£108.60 in 2016 to £111 this year), the number of drivers whose vehicles have suffered damage over the last 24 months has risen from 6.3 million drivers a year to 8.2 million, leading to the total bill for repairs increasing by £231 million. A DfT spokesperson said: ‘While it is for councils to identify where repairs should be undertaken, we are also looking at how innovative technology can help them keep their roads in the best condition and save money.’ But Cllr Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, said: ‘Only long-term and consistent investment in local road maintenance can allow councils to embark on the widespread improvement of our roads that is desperately needed’.
RETURN TO EARTH
We appear to be losing the fight against the ‘event horizon’ and are being sucked into the black holes. Let’s hope that Hawking was correct when he stated: “[Black holes] are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. If you feel you are trapped in a black hole, don’t give up. ere is a way out.”