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LGA - Pothole levels likely to surge warn councils because of spike in number of heavy lorries

Pothole levels are likely to surge because of a spike in levels of heavier lorries wearing down roads, councils warn.

The amount of goods lorries are transporting each year has rocketed by 5 per cent to almost 1.7 billion tonnes from the previous year, new figures reveal. The heavier the vehicle the more pressure is likely to be exerted on road surfaces, causing them to crumble quicker and form potholes. Lorries, particularly very heavy lorries, are massively more damaging to road surfaces than cars. This is because the damaging power rises exponentially as the weight of the vehicle increases.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says chronic government underfunding has left the local roads network facing an "unprecedented crisis" and this new increase in lorries could push the network "over the edge".

The LGA points out that, over the remaining years of the decade, the Government is investing over 40 times more in maintaining national roads (£1.1 million per mile; national roads make up just 3 per cent of all total roads) compared with local roads, which are controlled by councils (£27,000 per mile; 97 per cent of England's road network).

Councils are warning 2017 could be a tipping point year for potholes, with the repair bill could reaching  £14 billion within two years. The LGA says the overall repair figure has been steadily growing. According to statistics from the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), the total has risen from £9.8 billion in 2012 to £11.8 billion last year. At this current rate, it is projected to rise to £14 billion by around 2019. £14 billion is more than three times councils' entire annual revenue spending on highways and transport (£4.4 billion)  – covering issues like highways maintenance and the concessionary fares scheme for buses.

Meanwhile, the pothole repair time has surged from an estimated 10.9 years in 2006 to 14 years in 2016. Councils fix almost two million potholes a year – an average of 12,000 potholes for each local authority. Yet the average English authority currently faces a £69 million estimated one-off cost to bring its roads up to a reasonable condition.

To reverse this trend, the LGA is calling for the Government to inject a further £1 billion a year into roads maintenance. This could be achieved by investing just 2p per litre of existing fuel duty. This should not be paid for by increasing fuel duty rates. Previous LGA polling shows that 83 per cent of the population would support a small amount of the existing billions they pay the Treasury each year in fuel duty being reinvested to help councils bring our roads up to scratch.

This would help tackle the damage done to our roads by recent harsh winters and decades of underfunding by successive governments, which has seen the national backlog of road repairs spiral.

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Transport spokesman, said:

"Motorists should literally be bracing themselves for a surge in potholes. Our local roads network faces an unprecedented funding crisis and the latest spike in lorries could push our local roads network over the edge. Lorries exert massively more weight on road surfaces than cars, causing them to crumble far quicker.

"This year could be a tipping point year regarding potholes and councils, who have experienced significant budget reductions, now face the looming prospect of a bill of £14 billion to bring the nation's roads up to scratch.

"It is wrong and unfair that the Government allocates almost 40 times more to maintaining national roads, which it controls, compared with local roads, which are overseen by councils. It is paramount this funding discrepancy is swiftly plugged.

"It is becoming increasingly urgent to address the roads crisis we face as a nation. Councils fixed a pothole every 15 seconds again last year despite significant budget reductions leaving them with less to spend on fixing our crumbling roads. Local authorities are proving remarkably efficient in how they use this diminishing funding pot but they remain trapped in a frustrating cycle that will only ever leave them able to patch up our deteriorating roads.

"Councils share the frustration of motorists having to pay to drive on roads that are often inadequate. Our polling has shown that 83 per cent of the population would support a small amount of the existing billions they pay the Treasury each year in fuel duty being reinvested to help councils bring our roads up to scratch.

"Our roads crisis is only going to get worse unless we address it as a national priority. The Government's own traffic projections predict a potential increase in local traffic of up to 55 per cent by 2040. Councils need long-term and consistent funding to invest in the resurfacing projects which our road network desperately needs over the next decade.

"Motorists pay billions to the Treasury each year in fuel duty when they fill up their car at the pumps only to then have to drive on roads that are decaying after decades of underfunding. They deserve roads fit for the 21st century."

Notes to editors

The amount of goods lifted in the UK by GB-registered heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) increased by 5 per cent to 1.69 billion tonnes (in 12 months ending June 2016 compared with the previous year). (Road Freight Statistics: UK July 2015-June 2016)

Road damage rises steeply with axle weight, and is widely acknowledged to be proportional to the fourth power of the axle weight. This means that doubling the axle weight increases road damage 16 times, and in the case of the heaviest (44-tonne) trucks – the main competition for rail freight – HGVs are up to 160,000 times more damaging to road surfaces than the smallest vehicles. (Lorry traps to drive cheats of the Road - The Scotsman)

Councils' highways and transport services spending (p4)

It is estimated that the overloading of good vehicles costs the community more than £50 million a year through additional wear and tear to roads and bridges. Heavy axles cause proportionately far more wear and tear, and overloading drive axles (legal limit 11.5 tonnes) are the biggest single cause of excessive wear and tear on roads.

Key findings of the 2016 ALARM survey, an annual survey of highway bosses in England carried out by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), are:

  1. The one-off cost of repairing all our roads would be £11.8 billion compared with £10.5 billion in 2012
    • Councils fixed almost 2 million potholes in the last 12 months. On average each local authority fixed 12,000 potholes last year.
    • It would take 14 years to clear the repair backlog and it would take 65 years to resurface our entire road network. A similar survey by the AIA in 2006 showed the maintenance backlog was 10.9 years. This figure, and the 2016 figure, excludes London.
    • The average highway maintenance budget per local authority has fallen by 16 per cent.
    • The average English authority faces a £69 million estimated one-time cost to brings its road up to a reasonable condition.
  2. A previous LGA survey found 83 per cent of those polled would support a move to reinvest a proportion of existing fuel duty back into local areas to help bring our roads up to scratch
  3. The latest government projections show up to 55 per cent increase in traffic by 2040.
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