Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Bumpy Road Ahead

Listening to the States question time, one of the interesting questions that came up was about road repairs. Apparently, according to Minister Kevin Lewis, the utility companies have to guarantee their work for six months, after which time it becomes the responsibility of TTS, and hence the taxpayer.

Apparently, the roads are inspected by TTS, but given the bumpy nature of the repairs, and the patchwork quality, I wonder just what standards apply. If a trench has been dug up, and a patch is put back, it only takes some contraction and expansion before it is starting to have cracks where it meets the main road surface; patches are often uneven as well, you can easily feel them as you drive over them.

It's not something that Jersey alone is facing

"When Surrey County Council tested a sample of utility company road repairs it found half of them were of poor quality and many needed to be redone.....John Furey, Surrey County Council's Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment, said: "It's incredibly disheartening to see a smooth stretch of newly resurfaced road dug up just weeks after we've finished laying it. We want to work more closely with everyone involved to improve the situation." (1)

"Round my way almost all the "potholes" are actually failed road repairs from when utility companies have patched the road surface. Which makes me wonder why the local authorities don't go after them for the costs." (2)

The relevant UK Statute law is summarised in the report "Roads: maintenance, repairs and street works"

"The 1991 Act and associated regulations and codes of practice introduced new standards for the reinstatement of the road surface with utility companies being fully responsible for reinstatement following their street works. This was to end the previous confused divisions of responsibility between street authorities and utilities. Both interim and permanent reinstatements must conform to the statutory specification and undertakers executing road works must to comply with prescribed material specifications and standards of workmanship when reinstating a road or footway and to guarantee the performance of the reinstatement for a minimum period of two years. Street authorities can carry out inspections of utilities' works, at their expense. All cases of defective reinstatement identified by the local authority may be rectified at the undertaker's expense. The undertaker must also, for each proven defect, bear the cost of the initial investigation and three further follow up inspections." (3)

This is an exceptionally good idea - a two year guarantee on workmanship when reinstating a road after digging up a trench. However, it doesn't seem to be implemented terribly well. A Department for Transport report noted the kinds of problems occurring:

"Other significant concerns include poor quality patching and utility reinstatements, unevenness and raised or lowered ironwork, especially at the edge of the road or in cycle lanes." (4)

It notes that the RAC Report on Motoring 2011, as well as mentioning potholes, also said that a serious issue was "patched repairs and poorly reinstated utility trenches."

The problem is worldwide, and there are all kinds of ways to attempt to prevent the deteriorating surfaces caused by utility trenches being resurfaced. In Malaysia, for example:

Most councils require a deposit from companies before they are allowed to carry out any roadwork. If the council finds the resurfacing job has not been done properly, resulting in sedimentation on the road, the deposit is then forfeited. (5)

But the problem remains there because there is not enough enforcement to check on the quality of roadworks.

And six months, the Jersey situation, is simply not enough time because it fails to take account of changes in temperature. As Chris Peck notes in relation to UK roads:

"Repairs on minor roads are often literally slapdash. Uneven hand-laid reinstatements following utility works not only lead to potholes forming in the weakened road, but also bumpy, uncomfortable and dangerous surfaces for cycling. Incorrect laying of materials at the wrong time of year or at the wrong temperature can result in premature failure of the surface." (6)

The opening of the road weakens the structure, and the failure of the links to the old road surface leads to potholes forming. To be reliable, any repair to a trench needs to have at least one year to test it under all weather conditions.

Where statistics have been kept, it appears that, on average, when a trench is dug by a utility company, it has been found to reduce the life of the road surface by 17 per cent, even if it has been inspected and passed.

The utility companies are in a rush, they know they are preventing traffic flow, and their aim is to be finished and the road ready for use as soon as possible. A new practice in Jersey is to do a good deal of the work at night and rush to get it done by morning, so it is questionable whether there is time to do a thorough job. In the meantime, as in the UK, the taxpayer is picking up the tab:

"Contractors digging up roads on behalf of utility companies are failing to properly patch them up and leaving councils to pick up the bill, the LGA says." (7)

So what can be done to spread the load and perhaps make utility companies think more about digging up roads? An Asphalt Industry Alliance report in 2009 highlighted that highways departments across England and Wales have to cope with the intrusion of nearly two million deep trenches into roads for utility and other service provision works.

Transport for London's Director of Road Network Performance, Nick Morris, said: "This report recognises that, no matter how well utility works are patched, they result in long term deterioration of the carriageway surface and the need for extra or premature maintenance works paid for by the public purse from highway authority budgets that are already stretched to capacity.

''The report's suggestion of a charge structure to cover the cost of such long term damage by private utility companies is an equitable proposal and we would encourage Government to progress this under legislation it has already enacted for the purpose.''

"The CSS recommends that charges should in future be levied on those who trench the highways and is calling for the Government to step in and help sort out Britain's "patchwork" roads. Charges would vary according to the previous condition of the road and the volume of usage. Prices could range between £28 for lightly trafficked roads and £45 for those carrying most vehicles. Footways would be similarly charged between £11 and £23 per square metre." (8)

Some cost would, of course, probably be passed to the consumer, but at least the funds received by the States would be quantifiable and would lower the burden of total resurfacing. Moreover, work is sometimes done to connect new properties to utilities, and it is surely fairer that they should pay a bit more than the taxpayer essentially subsidise that work.

However, any timetable for changes to be made regarding road repairs is in the distant future. The Transport Minister refused to be drawn on when any changes and review of existing practice would be made. Given that he has spoken of a need for a total of £3.2 million to be spent resurfacing roads which have deteriorated, a good time to review the current situation, and perhaps lessen future costs, would be now.

I would also like to know what standards are for checking the road repairs. According to one writer:

"TTS do not use the same standards as the UK full stop. They have a different road standard classification, and different construction specifications. The UK uses either Local Authority standards, or the specification for Highway Works published by the Dtp. Jerseys roads are not subject to the same traffic loadings as UK roads, are not subject to as much freeze thaw degradation, and are generally surfaced in accordance with TTS's own hybrid specifications." (9)

Could it be that these lower standards are resulting in a greater number of deteriorating road surfaces after utility companies have been at work?



Daniel said...

"a good time to review the current situation, and perhaps lessen future costs, would be now."

If only!!!

This problem has been arouind for YEARS and absolutely nothing has been done to address a problem costing millions a year. When I was on Scrutiny we were promised a new law tackling the issues around this. Apparently we are still waiting.

Same goes for road safety. TTS has been "requested" (parliament-speak for "told") to " adopt formally within the first year a
specific trend target for accident reduction by the end of the policy period, and to inform the States of this target and the rationale behind it"

I wrote this in my report:

"By ensuring that the task group has to arrive at this target and justify it in a report to
the States should make the group seriously consider the cost of accidents to the
individuals involved and to society at large, seriously consider the causes of road
accidents in Jersey as shown by the analysis they are tasked to carry out as part of
their remit, and seriously assess the measures needed to cut the toll of injury and

I believe we are still waiting, and that amendment was passsed by the States on the 1st December 2010, with no one voting against.


Anonymous said...

Appearing before a Scrutiny Panel recently the Minister confessed to a massive reduction by the Treasury in his road repairs budget. He spoke in terms of £30 millions down to £3 millions but I was unable to determine if both figures referred to the same 12 months period.
I could look at my notes or refer to the podcast recording - but I cannot be bothered.
Perhaps another of the 98,000 residents of Jersey could do it?
Mike Dun writes