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04/04/2023 News

Why we need a strategic overhaul to improve the UK’s ailing roads: 2023 ALARM survey findings

Today (21 March 2022), the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) has published its latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance survey (ALARM)

Following an injection of an additional £200 million into the Pothole Fund in the 2023 Spring Budget, on top of the £2.7bn committed in the 2021 spending review for local highways maintenance, this survey provides a stark reminder of current road conditions and the scale of maintenance needs across England and Wales.

ALARM survey key findings at a glance:

  • £14.02bn: The total backlog to fix local roads in England and Wales to an appropriate standard, an 11% increase from last year that would take 11 years to complete
  • 80%: The remaining annual shortfall in English local authorities’ budgets to reach their repair targets after the £200 million payment from the UK Government
  • One in two: Approximate number of local roads which could require rebuilding in the next fifteen years
  • 3 every minute: The approximate frequency of potholes filled across England and Wales
  • Once every 116 years: How frequently roads are resurfaced on average, 65% less frequently than last year’s average of 70 years

Commenting on the publication of the ALARM survey, Richard Ashton, Market Development Manager Bitumen, TotalEnergies UK, said: “The government’s investment into the Potholes Fund will naturally put pothole filling at the top of the agenda for many local authorities. But the need to fill potholes at all is, in many respects, a sign of systemic failure and takes focus away from the real solution which is a long-term asset management approach.

This year’s ALARM report demonstrates that our road network is under immense strain, and rehashing the same forms of remedial work is increasingly futile. The cost of filling potholes has gone up, the number of potholes filled has decreased, and the backlog has grown to such a point that it is unrealistic to expect local authorities to catch up.

A long-term view of highways management is needed in order to futureproof roads and reduce reliance on costly, disruptive, reactionary interventions.

Early issues detection and prevention is the ‘stitch in time’ that can save nine potholes. There needs to be a decisive shift in strategy, and funding, to move away from remedial efforts and refocus on solutions which bolster road resilience and deliver a safer, more cost effective, and more sustainable highways network.

“This is likely to include a mix of proactive measures from Surface Dressing Treatment at the optimum time to extend road lifespans, through to planned, preventative resurfacing at appropriate intervals. Taken together with innovations like warm mix asphalt, a whole lifespan strategy for highways asset management will provide cost savings, reduced disruption and risk for road users, and help to reduce the overall carbon impact of our critical carriageways.”

TotalEnergies continues to develop, test and bring to market new products and solutions to help meet the challenges raised by the ALARM survey. The Styrelf range of bitumen binders, a cross linked bitumen-polymer mix, delays the oxidative ageing process, while reducing a road’s vulnerability to heat in its early years and to cracking as it ages. This markedly reduces the need for intervention or resurfacing compared to pure bitumen products and thus lowers the strain on highway maintenance.

The ECO² bitumen, which produces asphalt at temperatures 40°C lower than traditional Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA), offers productivity gains through reducing the time needed to reach its service temperature. More material can be laid in a single shift, helping the industry tackle the ever growing backlog of maintenance work required, while substantially reducing its energy usage requirements thereby lowering overall carbon footprint.

TotalEnergies welcomes the research undertaken by the AIA through the ALARM survey and will continue to engage with the industry and Local Authorities to deliver a more resilient, better performing highways network and sustainability through durability.

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