Austerity road – the cracks are showing

For the past few years may local councils have found themselves under pressure to the point where budget cuts and other austerity measures have been implemented to try reduce budget deficits. While financially this may seem to be the most prudent course of action, it is not without implications.

The demand for infrastructure and related public services doesn’t simply go away or reduce because there’s no funding available. In fact the opposite is true. 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%. While this may not seem like a lot, when compared to motorways statistics it reflects that local roads carry 66% of all traffic.

Are motorways more important than local roads?
The majority of funding (52%) being made available for road infrastructure upgrades and maintenance is being channeled into developing smart motorways. While this is important, local roads are equally so. The problem is that funding for local roads falls under local councils, who currently don’t have the money for routine maintenance, never mind the much needed upgrades. Many local councils have taken the approach of only carrying out emergency repairs. However, this retroactive approach is likely to compound the problem.

The Department for Transport statistics reflect that decades of underinvestment have resulted in a 9.3 billion backlog on pothole repairs. With no hope of finding the funding needed to make up for that deficit, the situation for road users is likely to worsen in the foreseeable future.

Who will pay the price for deteriorating roads?

The latest Local Authority Road Maintenance report highlights that the rate of road deterioration is increasing. No doubt due to the increased traffic volumes which are set to grow exponentially. Given the current 9.3 billion maintenance budget deficit, 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.

It is clear that austerity measures are not a solution with regards to infrastructure development. Local councils need to rethink their strategies and actively work to source funding that can be channeled into essential infrastructure development.