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Weather-proofing highways for the future

Source: Public Sector Executive June/July 2014

Cllr Carl Maynard, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for transport and environment, tells PSE how targeted investment and the local authority’s Highways Asset Management Plan will help ‘weather-proof’ the county’s roads for the future.

Many of the UK’s road networks were severely affected during the wettest winter on record, with one of the worst areas bearing the brunt of the storms being East Sussex.

Now, however, through targeted investment, East Sussex County Council is aiming to ‘weather-proof’ its highways for the future, after the unprecedented level of rainfall took its toll on the county’s 2,000 miles of roads.

Although the Somerset Levels got more national media coverage, scores of residents in East Sussex were left without electricity, access to trains and many roads, such as the A21, due to the flooding.

Cllr Carl Maynard, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for transport & environment, told PSE: “The extreme weather has taken its toll on the county’s road network. But, despite the budget cuts we’re facing, good housekeeping, prioritisation and careful planning means we’ve been able to set aside a substantial amount of one-off funding for roads.

“The county council’s 2014-15 budget, agreed in February 2014, includes investment in roads of more than £50m. This is being funded from the county council’s Capital Programme.”

By 2017, the council aims to improve county infrastructure by improving the condition of its highways to create the “conditions for growth” and “improve enterprise”.

Targeted investment

Councillors also agreed that over the next two years, £40m will be spent to repair the county’s road network, £10m of which will be for unclassified roads. This was on top of £6.5m set aside for the maintenance and improvement of pavements and highway drainage and £2.25m approved for pothole repairs. In addition, the government added a further £2.6m to the total as part of its £180m fund to repair roads.

“We know from speaking to people that potholes are a major concern and the additional funding from the council’s Capital Programme will enable us to properly resurface more of the county’s roads to prevent potholes forming,” said Maynard. “The government’s £2.25m funding for potholes will allow the council to repair most potholes within 28 days, which would significantly improve the speed of repairs for potholes on unclassified roads.”

In the last four years, East Sussex County Council has invested more than £100m in its road network, and over the next two years it plans to resurface more than 400 roads.

Taking its toll

Maynard said: “The highways team has employed more than three times the usual number of maintenance workers to deal with road issues. As well as dealing with drainage problems and fallen trees, these teams have repaired more than 25,000 potholes.”

While the council does not have the limitless funds that would be needed to resurface 2,000 miles of road, it is doing some – the most recent being the A22 Golden Jubilee Way, which reopened in late May and was completed in half the seven-week period scheduled for the job.

“Through careful planning and by closing one carriageway at the time we were able to complete the work ahead of schedule and under budget,” said Maynard. “To have completed the work in half the scheduled time is a very positive result and is a testament to the way our contractor [Colas] and council staff have worked effectively and efficiently.”

The new road surface, which carries traffic from London to Eastbourne, is expected to last for 10 years without the need for major repairs. The council also told PSE that improving the condition of its roads plays a significant part in improving its “tourism offer” as a well as promoting East Sussex as a “great place to live and work”.

Asset Management Plan

However, the key to delivering the major infrastructure and network improvements is the council’s Highways Asset Management Plan, delivered by the Highways Service team. The plan manages all highway policies, the strategies to deliver policies to agreed service levels, and governance.

The team also has control of the highway service capital and revenue budgets, setting, reviewing and reporting on performance. It also works closely with the highway contracts management team, assisting with performance management and business improvement.

Maynard said that plan, plus the new investment, will act as a safeguard for the future. “The additional investment will mean a greater proportion of our road network can be resurfaced and ‘sealed’ from the winter rain and ice. By far the biggest achievement has been the development of our Highways Asset Management Plan, which has enabled evidence-based decisions to be made by Cabinet for the first time.

“This has also enabled us to compile a two-year resurfacing programme, which itself delivers further efficiencies by giving total visibility to our contractor and the wider supply chain.”

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