Road Maintenance

This measure was provided by INSTITUTE FOR TRANSPORT STUDIES (ITS) in 2014 under the CH4LLENGE project, financed by the European Commission.


Road maintenance covers a range of practices and aims. Roads experience wear and tear through combinations of vehicular use and accidents, weather and other natural events. Further measures, such as gritting, can be used to mitigate the effects of weather or temperature conditions on the ability of vehicles to use a road. Beyond this, road maintenance can be used to realise benefits from developments in materials and in understanding of the impact of road building materials on pollution.

Terminology

The following description treats road maintenance as concerned with existing vehicular carriageways, footways and on-road cycle lanes, and their associated structures, markings and obstacles (such as lighting; road markings; vegetation), so it does not directly consider road construction, traffic calming; road widening or reconfiguration; or off-road cycle routes or footways (except where they cross a carriageway; or where signs or lighting impact on a footway).

It is helpful to describe four broad categories of road maintenance, recognising that there will be overlap between them:

  1. Programmes of inspection and repair; 
  2. Responsive repair: that is repairs made following reports of damage;
  3. Treatment of surfaces to mitigate the effects of weather and temperature on the carriageway;
  4. Replacing materials constituting the carriageway.

Description

Decisions about road maintenance have can wide reaching effects including impacts on vehicle speed; on safety for occupants of vehicles; on safety for other road users including pedestrians and cyclists, on accessibility, on pollution and noise; on fuel consumption, and on flood risks related to drainage (Gould et al. 2013).  Maintenance and repair can have beneficial impacts for safety, however where maintenance results in higher vehicular speed it may be a factor in increasing risks of death and serious injury from collisions (see Noland 2003).  Higher traffic speeds can inhibit walking and cycling, and create fear for those who through choice or necessity continue to walk and cycle (Pooley et al. 2013).

Major costs of maintenance include financial costs, congestion as work is carried out, environmental impacts of construction materials and associated with maintenance itself  (Parkman et al. 2012; Gosse and Smith 2013; Gschosser et al. 2014); impacts on safety; burdens to residents and businesses living alongside a road; and congestion while repairs are conducted (Gould et al. 2013). 

There is unlikely to be a linear relationship between levels of maintenance and costs. While it is the case that all maintenance will have associated costs, financial and other costs will vary according to factors such as timing of identification and response to damage; materials chosen and the externalities associated with those materials; and the planning and communication about road closures (Gould et al. 2013); financial costs may also vary according to the extent to which decisions on maintenance are sufficient to limit insurance claims from those adversely affected by road conditions (Atkinson 1997). 

Why introduce road maintenance?

The condition of a road can have impacts on congestion, speed, safety, emissions and noise pollution, and on fuel consumption.  If better maintenance increases vehicular speed, or leads to other ‘compensatory’ behaviour then any safety improvements will be limited by increased risks of death and serious injury in collisions (Noland 2003, and see Accident Remedial measures).  Maintenance of footways may encourage increased walking as mode of travel (Parkman et al. 2012; Pooley et al. 2013).  

Gould et al. set out major reasons for planning and implementing road maintenance. They note that:

“timely treatment of assets can keep them in a good state of repair and reduce or delay further degradation. While this incurs earlier costs it can avoid greater costs in the future and therefore reduce net present costs to the highway authority. Also, planned programmes of work can allow for more efficient procurement and consequently reduce unit costs” (2013, p.3).

Beyond this, authorities and organisations with responsibility for roads can be vulnerable to legal action if their planning and implementation of maintenance is deemed inadequate by courts (Atkinson 1997).

Demand impacts

The following considers impacts of programmes of repair and improved road conditions. It does not take account of costs of maintenance to users, however these are considered in the following tables.

Responses and situations

Response

Reduction in road traffic

Expected in situations

Improved road conditions may reduce journey time and allow delayed departure time. 

Maintenance might reduce diversions which would otherwise be chosen due to poor road condition. This could limit overall distance travelled.

Choice over destination might be influenced by road conditions.

/

Improved road conditions might induce trips that would not otherwise occur.

/

Maintenance of footways and carriageways can improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and can encourage increased use of these modes. However improved conditions may encourage greater use of private motor vehicles.

Decisions to sell vehicles or to replace with non-motorised transport could be influenced by road conditions.

Decisions on where to live might be influenced by road conditions.

= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Short and long run demand responses

The following considers impacts of programmes of repair and improved road conditions, taking account of costs of maintenance to users. Parkman et al. 2012 emphasise that impacts of road maintenance occur over a long term, and that costs to users will lag behind decreases in maintenance (2012, ch.6).

Demand responses

Response

-

Short term

Long term

Journey time and reliability influenced by road conditions. Repairs can cause congestion.
Maintenance might reduce diversions due to poor road condition. This could limit overall distance travelled. Repair work can require diversions.

Choice over destination might be influenced by road conditions.

Improved road conditions might induce trips that would not otherwise occur.

/ /

Maintenance of footways and carriageways can improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and can encourage increased use of these modes. However improved conditions may encourage greater use of private motor vehicles.

/ /
Decisions to sell vehicles or to replace with non-motorised transport could be influenced by road conditions.
Decisions on where to live might be influenced by road conditions.
= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Supply impacts

Maintenance aimed at improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists can increase supply of accessible pedestrian and cycle routes, this can benefit objectives of efficiency and social equity and inclusion.  Maintenance should increase road capacity for motor vehicles and enable improved journey reliability.    

Financing requirements

Programmes of road maintenance require initial and ongoing finance, however costs can be reduced if work is planned appropriately, and if repairs are conducted before road conditions deteriorate (Gould et al. 2013). Finance for repairs might be considered in the context of costs of failing to implement adequate programmes: these can include costs of injury or ill heath associated with collisions, poor air quality (exacerbated by poor road conditions), inaccessibility to employment and economic activity, legal liability for harm resulting from poor maintenance.

Expected impact on key policy objectives

Contribution to objectives

Objective

Scale of contribution

Comment

Planned maintenance can reduce overall costs of repair and can be offset by reduction in costs associated with poor maintenance.

/

Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety and journey quality for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased speed can reduce liveability.

/

Improved road conditions can reduce pollution, vibration and noise.  In addition poor maintenance can be associated with higher fuel use and carbon emissions at a given speed. If speeds increase as a result pollution and noise may increase.

/

Poor maintenance affects all road users, but pedestrians and cyclists are particularly vulnerable.

/ Improved conditions can reduce risks for all road users. Higher speeds might be associated with improved road conditions. This can be offset by Accident Remedial measures.

It is possible factors such as accessibility, and reliable journey times will impact on economic development. However there is uncertainty about this relationship (e.g. Banister 2012).

/

There are costs of maintenance. However these can be offset against reduced costs associated with planned road maintenance.

= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Expected impact on problems

For the large part, the impacts on problems mirror those on objectives. 

Contribution to alleviation of key problems

Problem

Scale of contribution

Comment

Congestion

 Better maintenance will increase capacity, but repair work can create temporary congestion

Community impacts

/

Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists.  This can bring benefits of greater accessibility to social and economic opportunity, and health benefits of greater activity levels through active travel. However, any resulting increased speed can reduce liveability.

Environmental damage

/

Improved road conditions can reduce noise, poor local air quality and carbon emissions (at fixed speeds), can reduce flood risk from poor drainage. There are environmental costs associated with materials, and implementation of road maintenance. 

Poor accessibility

/

If maintenance improves conditions for pedestrians and cyclists this can increase accessibility. However higher speeds can reduce accessibility for vulnerable road users.

Social and geographical disadvantage

/

Disadvantage might be reduced by improved accessibility and by improved ability to travel to and participate in economic and social activities. Disadvantage might be increased if road improvements lead to severance through increased vehicular speed in certain areas.

Accidents

/

Improved conditions can reduce risks for all road users. Higher speeds might be associated with improved road conditions. This can be offset by Accident Remedial measures.

Poor economic growth

It is possible factors such as accessibility, and reliable journey times will impact on economic development. However there is uncertainty about this relationship.

= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Expected Winners and Losers

Winners and losers

Group

Winners / losers

Comment

Large scale freight and commercial traffic

It is possible factors such as accessibility, and reliable journey times will impact on economic development. However there is uncertainty about this relationship. Improved road conditions can reduce wear on vehicles and fuel consumption. Repair work may involve some delay to traffic.  

Small businesses

As above

High income car-users As above

Low income car-users with poor access to public transport

As above

All existing public transport users Public transport using roads would benefit from improved reliability, potentially more pleasant journeys and (if cost savings are passed on) passengers may benefit from lowers fares due to lower fuel consumption and reduced vehicle wear. 

People living adjacent to the area targeted

/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased speed can be a danger and disadvantage to residents. There are disadvantages to residents while repair are being undertaken.

Cyclists including children

/ Improved road conditions increase accessibility and safety for and cyclists. If road maintenance leads to increased vehicular speeds, this can present a danger to cyclists.
People at higher risk of health problems exacerbated by poor air quality Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution at least at fixed speeds.

People making high value, important journeys

Road maintenance should enable more reliable journey times. Repair work may involve some delay to traffic.
The average car user As above. Improved road conditions can reduce wear on vehicles and fuel consumption.
= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Barriers to Implementation

Scale of barriers

Barrier

Scale

Comment

Legal

There may be duties to inform and/ or minimise disruption to householders or businesses inconvenienced while road maintenance is taking place.  Failure to adequately maintain roads could lead to legal claims for compensation from public injured or suffering damage to vehicles.

Finance

Planned programmes and ad hoc maintenance both have cost implications. Planned programmes may be economically efficient but can be vulnerable to budget cuts.

Governance Given its cost implications, implementation of planned programmes of maintenance may depend on securing budget within organisations who have competing demands on their resources.

Political acceptability

Political acceptability might depend on perceived benefits of maintenance against demands to reduce costs.

Public and stakeholder acceptability There can be objections to disruptions created by road maintenance, but conversely poor maintenance is a major source of public complaints. 

Technical feasibility

There are no technical barriers.

= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Parkman et al. 2012 conducted a study using quantitative and qualitative methods to assess ‘environmental, social and economic impacts of cuts to the roads maintenance budgets for trunk roads and local roads in Scotland’ (p. 1). They found a range of dis-benefits of reducing maintenance programmes, and where this could be quantified the value of dis-benefits outweighed the costs of maintenance, such that for a £1 reduction in road maintenance, there was a cost of £1.50 to the wider economy (p. 19). They add that if ‘figures were available to quantify aspects not currently included in the quantitative analyses, it is expected that these would only enhance the conclusion. For example:

  • Impacts of any increase in road closures due to unforeseen events
  • Costs of delaying major repair work on significant structures leading to possible closures, weight restrictions or more extensive maintenance work
  • Wider economic dis-benefits such as reduced tourism or local economic activity (Parkman et al. 2012, p. 19)

The study authors go on to outline how, contrary to what they say is often assumed, these dis-benefits extend far beyond the problems for vehicular journeys. The authors cite the dis-benefits as affecting cyclists, if traffic calming measures are reduced and if the conditions of cycle-tracks and the edges of roads deteriorate; pedestrians, particularly those with mobility difficulties, if maintenance to footways is reduced and further significant dis-benefits to all pedestrians especially through increased noise, vibration and pollution caused by vehicles using deteriorated carriageways; local communities as a whole, due to erosion of public realm and presumed impacts on perceptions of security (2012, p. 19).   

The study by Gould et al. (2013) considered the economics of road maintainenance in England and Wales. Aspects of this study are reported in earlier sections of this description. Gould et al. drew on the Scottish study outlined above (Parkman was an author in both studies), and they state that ‘no significant new impacts or approaches to the analysis have emerged since the completion of the Scotland study (Parkman et al., 2012a). However, the relative balance of the impacts will be different in England and Wales based on the differences in the networks (e.g. proportion of roads in urban areas and levels of traffic).’ (p. vii)

Contribution to objectives
Objective Scale of contribution Comment
Planned maintenance can reduce overall costs of repair and can be offset by reduction in costs associated with poor maintenance. If improved road condition increase speed there may be additional costs from injury in collisions.
/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased speed can reduce liveability.
/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased speed can reduce liveability. In addition poor maintenance can be associated with higher fuel use and carbon emissions at fixed speeds.
/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased speed can reduce liveability. In addition poor maintenance can be associated with higher fuel use and carbon emissions at fixed speeds.
/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists.. Improved conditions can reduce risks for all road users. Higher speeds might be associated with improved road conditions. This can be offset by Accident Remedial measures.
It is possible factors such as accessibility, and reliable journey times will impact on economic development. However there is uncertainty about this relationship (e.g. Banister 2012).
/ Costs of finance can be offset against reduced costs associated with planned road maintenance.
= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Contribution to objectives

Contribution to objectives
Objective Scale of contribution Comment
Planned maintenance can reduce overall costs of repair and can be offset by reduction in costs associated with poor maintenance. If improved road condition increase speed there may be additional costs from injury in collisions.
/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased speed can reduce liveability.  
/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased speed can reduce liveability. In addition poor maintenance can be associated with higher fuel use and carbon emissions at fixed speeds.
/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased speed can reduce liveability. In addition poor maintenance can be associated with higher fuel use and carbon emissions at fixed speeds.
/ Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists.. Improved conditions can reduce risks for all road users. Higher speeds might be associated with improved road conditions. This can be offset by Accident Remedial measures.
It is possible factors such as accessibility, and reliable journey times will impact on economic development. However there is uncertainty about this relationship (e.g. Banister 2012).
/ Costs of finance can be offset against reduced costs associated with planned road maintenance.
= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response


Contribution to problems

Contribution to alleviation of key problems
Problem Scale of contribution Comment
Congestion One objective of road maintenance is to reduce congestion.
Community impacts /

Road maintenance can improve accessibility and safety for road users, and reduce noise and potentially other forms of pollution. However increased speeds can have detrimental community impacts.

Environmental damage / Poor maintenance can be associated with higher fuel use and carbon emissions at fixed speeds. Resources used for road maintenance have associated environmental costs.
Poor accessibility /

Improved road conditions can reduce local pollution and noise, and might increase accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Conversely increased speed can reduce safety.

Social and geographical disadvantage / Depending on where maintenance occurs, areas of geographical disadvantage may benefit from improved accessibility and safety associated with road maintenance but may also suffer increased risks of higher speeds.
Accidents /

See community impacts above.

Economic growth It is possible factors such as accessibility, and reliable journey times will impact on economic development. However there is uncertainty about this relationship (e.g. Banister 2012).
= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Appropriate contexts

Appropriate area-types
Area type Suitability
City centre
Dense inner suburb
Medium density outer suburb
Less dense outer suburb
District centre
Corridor
Small town
Tourist town
= Least suitable area type = Most suitable area type

Adverse side effects

If maintenance increases vehicular speed, or leads to other ‘compensatory’ behaviour then any safety improvements will be limited by increased risks of death and serious injury in collisions (Noland 2003, and see Accident Remedial measures). 

Atkinson, K. (1997) Highway Maintenance Handbook. Thomas Telford.
Banister, D. (2012) ‘Transport and economic development: reviewing the evidence. Transport Reviews 32 (1).

Cervero, R., Road Expansion, Urban Growth, and Induced Travel: A path analysis. Journal of the American Planning Association, 69 (2), 145-163.

Gould E., Parkman, C. and Buckland, T. (2013) The Economics of Road Maintenance, RAC Foundation, Adept.

Gosse, C.A. and Smith, B.L. (2013) Environmentally Preferable Pavement Management Systems Clarens, Af Journal Of Infrastructure Systems, 19 (3), 315-325.

Gschosser, F., Wallbaum, H. and Adey, B.T. (2014) Environmental analysis of new construction and maintenance processes of road pavements in Switzerland. Structure And Infrastructure Engineering, 10 (1), 1-24.

Noland R. B. (2003) Traffic fatalities and injuries: the effect of changes in infrastructure and other trends Accident Analysis and Prevention, 35, 599–611

Parkman, C. C., Abell, R., Bradbury, T. and Peeling, D. (2012) Economic, Environmental and Social Impact of Changes in Maintenance Spend on Roads in Scotland Summary Report. Transport Research Laboratory for Transport Scotland.

Pooley, C.G., Horton, D., Scheldeman, G., Mullen, C., Jones, T, Tight, M., Jopson, A. Strano, E., (2013) Policies for promoting walking and cycling in England: a view from the street, Transport Policy 27, 66-72