Talking point: Road maintenance, a European challenge
The lack of funding for road maintenance is a growing problem in Europe. Wide-ranging initiatives are now required in order to avoid further deterioration.
“The aim is to highlight the extra cost that is the consequence of maintenance works being postponed.”
As in most European countries, maintenance of infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges in France. It is a complex area, and the initiatives undertaken have to be part of an overall strategy that makes it possible to reconcile the need for improvements with the actual budget available.
When it comes to road maintenance in particular, it is difficult to quantify the need exactly as it depends on multiple parameters. To achieve better accuracy in its estimates, the national and local authorities in charge of the roads in France have created a shared tool, the National Road Observatory. This is an important step to evaluate the management of the road network, technically and financially, and to apply the right priorities in a situation with an ageing road network and stretched public finances. Work is being carried out under the leadership of IDRRIM, which brings together both public and private actors in the area of French transport infrastructure.
The consequences of inadequate maintenance are obvious. The challenge we are facing is to improve knowledge of how the road network is deteriorating based on three main factors: climate conditions, traffic and operating conditions and construction techniques. This will enable us to assess more precisely how improvements affect the useful life of roads.
Experience shows that regular maintenance makes it possible to avoid serious deterioration that requires interventions further down the line, which are both more expensive and more disruptive for traffic. The term usually used in this context is a grey debt. This is a debt, the amount of which is concealed and that grows if no action is taken. The aim is to quantify this financial impact and thus measure and highlight the extra cost that is the consequence of maintenance works being postponed.
Didier Colin, Managing Director IDRRIM – Institute for Roads, Streets & Infrastructures for Mobility
“We must get away from thinking solely in terms of price.”
The maintenance backlog for the 70,000 km of municipal roads in Denmark represents approximately 520 million EUR, or 3.9 billion DKK. This amount is reducing and one reason for this is that our 98 municipal authorities have been proactive and during 2020 they brought forward roadworks because of COVID-19.
For the national roads – 3,500 km in total – the backlog has been cleared. But looking ahead, the funding allocated for this part of the road network is not sufficient and will lead to a maintenance deficit of up to 190 million EUR for 2023.
Traffic jams and accidents are everyday occurrences in the primary road network, which carries most of the traffic – for example the E45 through Jutland, the E20 across Funen and the Copenhagen area. Traffic volumes are also on the increase and there is a shortage of new roads for the increasing load and the electric vehicles of the future.
The Danish government has promised that 2021 will see the launch of a ten-year infrastructure plan worth 8,7 billion EUR in order to make the infrastructure future-proof. Some of this money will be spent on our roads. This is something the industry has requested for many years now.
It costs 2 or 3 times as much to renovate worn roads than to maintain them in time. Roads with holes and cracks, poor road markings and poorly maintained verges also contribute to more accidents and reduced accessibility. Another major challenge is to integrate climate considerations into tenders and to enable, for example, recycling and the use of road pavements that help vehicles to travel further for the same amount of kW or petrol. We must get away from thinking solely in terms of the price up front and assess the long-term value to society by paying more for climate-friendly solutions now and reaping the benefits in the long term.
Anders Hundahl, CEO, Asfaltindustrien Denmark
“The sums outlined will not be enough to plug the existing multi-billion pound backlog.”
The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) publishes an annual survey – Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) – that describes the development of the UK road network. Since the first report was published in 1995, successive ALARM reports have shown near-static levels of funding despite an ageing network, heavier vehicles, increased volumes of traffic and more frequent extreme weather events due to climate change. The latest version (2020) reveals that it would take 11 years and cost £11.14 billion to bring the local road network up to a position from which it could be maintained cost-effectively going forward.
At current budget levels, local highway authorities cannot maintain all parts of their networks adequately; principal roads are prioritised at the expense of unclassified roads – even though unclassified roads, such as residential streets, actually represent the greatest share by length. This has resulted in principal roads being resurfaced, on average, every 33 years, but unclassified roads are only resurfaced once every 119 years. The imbalance in the levels of funding allocated to maintain different parts of the road network is also evident in the fact that the Strategic Road Network (SRN), which includes motorways and trunk roads, receives more than 20 times the level of investment per mile for maintenance than local roads.
If we look into the future, it is pleasing that the Government’s recent Spending Review pledged £1.125 billion of local road maintenance funding in 2021-22, including £500 million for the Potholes Fund. This would improve the condition of our local roads and help prevent potholes from forming in the first place. More than £1 billion has been spent on chasing and filling potholes over the last decade. What a waste!
While these spending commitments are welcome in these challenging times, we are aware that the sums outlined will not be enough to plug the existing multi-billion pound backlog in road maintenance funding and so our ageing network will continue to decline.
David Giles, UK General Manager Eurobitume and Director of AIA