The analysis of government data by the RAC reveals a concerning trend in road treatment and resurfacing in England, hitting its lowest level in the past five years. According to the figures for the financial year 2021/2022, only 1,123 miles of various road types underwent resurfacing or life-extending treatment, marking a significant 29% reduction (465 miles) compared to 2017/2018. The use of surface dressing, a technique aimed at prolonging road life, also experienced a decline of 34%, with 3,551 miles treated compared to 5,345 miles five years ago.
Among the 153 road authorities surveyed in the latest data, 31% did not engage in any resurfacing activities, while 51% neglected surface dressing work. The average length of road resurfaced for all authorities over the 12-month period was a mere 13 miles, while surface dressing covered 42 miles on average.
Regional variations were notable, with Kent leading in A-road resurfacing, covering 5.8% of its 502 miles, and Lincolnshire taking the lead in surface dressing at 7.6% of its 661 A-road miles. For B, C, and unclassified roads, Hertfordshire and Norfolk emerged as leaders in resurfacing and surface dressing, respectively.
In percentage terms, Southend-on-Sea resurfaced 13% of its 21-mile A-road network, while Blackpool surface dressed 43% of its 26 A-road miles. For B, C, and unclassified roads, Tower Hamlets and Reading led in resurfacing and surface dressing, respectively.
RAC Calls for Change
The RAC, alarmed by the decline, has renewed its call for the government to reconsider funding for local road maintenance. They propose ringfencing a portion of funds generated through fuel duty to provide councils with long-term, stable funding, allowing them to address the backlog in road maintenance effectively.
Simon Williams, Head of Policy at RAC, emphasized the urgent need for action, stating that the decline in road improvement work is leading to the emergence of potholes. While acknowledging the costliness of resurfacing, Williams urged authorities to embrace more cost-effective road surface treatments like surface dressing, which can significantly extend the life of roads.
The Asphalt Industry Alliance's report estimates that over £12 billion is needed to address the backlog in road maintenance, requiring 11 years to clear. However, the RAC argues that focusing on more cost-effective road surface treatments can be a viable solution. Surface dressing, according to the Road Surface Treatments Association, costs £5 per square meter compared to £30 per square meter for conventional asphalt resurfacing.
Report Recommends Preventative Action
The RAC's report emphasizes the advantages of preventative surface treatments, citing their cost-effectiveness, time efficiency, and ability to contribute to road safety. Despite the financial contributions of drivers to the Treasury, the RAC calls for increased funding for local roads, pointing out the disparity in funding between major roads and local roads. They advocate for a preventative approach to road maintenance to maximize the impact of squeezed budgets and enhance the overall condition of England's roads.