Local Road Networks Feeling the Impact of Austerity

We’ll leave it up to the economists to argue over whether or not the austerity programme implemented after the 2010 election was a good or bad thing. What’s undeniable is that it is having a major impact on our local road networks.

Councils are responsible for maintaining local roads and their budgets have been hit hard by austerity. Northamptonshire County Council recently hit the headlines with radical plans to strip services down to the bone to tackle a £70m deficit. Road maintenance was one of the major casualties.

Many other councils, faced with tough choices, have opted to save on road maintenance rather than cut other areas such as children’s services.

But demand from road users doesn’t go away just because there’s no money. Road traffic estimates from 2017 show that the total number of vehicle miles travelled was already exceeding 323.7 billion – up 1.3% from the previous year. Traffic on minor roads has increased by 1.4% and ‘A’ roads by 1.1%.
This is in just one year. If those increases are compounded year on year we will get to a point where crumbling road networks can’t cope.

Motorways – A Smart Choice for Funding?

The majority of funding (52%) being made available for road infrastructure upgrades and maintenance is being channelled into developing smart motorways. While this is important, we have to remember that local roads carry 66% of all traffic.

Local roads carry the lifeblood of local economies!

Local councils don’t have the money for routine maintenance, never mind the much needed upgrades. Many have taken the approach of only carrying out emergency repairs. It’s an understandable response but this retroactive approach will compound the problem.

The Department for Transport statistics reflect that decades of under investment have resulted in a 9.3 billion backlog on pothole repairs. Just let that number sink in for a while. With no hope of finding the funding needed to make up for that deficit, the situation for road users will get worse, and soon! The longer a pothole or worn out section of road is left the more difficult and expensive it becomes to repair.

Who Pays the Price for Deteriorating Roads?

The latest Local Authority Road Maintenance report highlights that the rate of road deterioration is increasing. Increased traffic volumes, which are set to grow exponentially, will exacerbate the problem.

It is estimated it will take at least 14 years to get the local road networks up to an acceptable standard. Furthermore, the report states that at least 20% of local roads will need to be resurfaced within the next 5 years. To put that in context there are over 200,000 miles of local roads in the UK.

It is clear that austerity has had a significant impact on infrastructure development. We are at the point where we can’t keep pushing the problem away hoping that a solution will turn up. Urgent action is now needed. Local councils must rethink their strategies and actively work to source funding that can be channelled into essential infrastructure development.