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Climate change to trigger roads maintenance crisis

Urgent action is needed to stop climate change from destroying the UK's highways, says a new report for the Department for Transport (DfT) seen by NCE.

The report by the transport research body TRL warns that hotter summers and wetter winters are damaging the roads network more than ever before.

Every local authority in the country should urgently carry out a climate change risk assessment
on their roads and a "sustainability audit" of their maintenance plans, it says.

"Each highway authority should assess the vulnerability of its highway network to climate change as
a matter of urgency," says the report, due to be published early in the New Year.

It will be read with interest by worried highway engineers already struggling to cope with an overall rise of 0.2% in road maintenance budgets while construction inflation is running as high as 10%.

Devon County Council head of highway management Lester Wilmington said that road conditions were deteriorating faster as a result of climate change.

"It's bad news in all directions in terms of highways structures," he said this week, just after another
round of intense storms had swept across the country at the weekend.

"The hot summers lead to more cracking and pot holing and then with storms there is more water
ingress into the base of the structure which starts to pick it apart.

"We are seeing much more of that because of the intensity and frequency of the storms."

The study urges highways departments to increase drainage and review materials used to repair and lay new road surfaces.

Using detailed case studies from 25 local authorities, it assesses the effect of climate change on common road surfaces such as Hot Rolled Asphalt in terms of vulnerability to water and temperature and the effect on skid resistance and stiffness.

Local government engineers body UK Roads Board of Highway Engineers said a rethink of maintenance policies was needed.

Its chairman Matthew Lugg said: "We recognise that we need to review traditional thinking around
highway maintenance. Maintenance engineers have got to look at priorities and standards.

"We need to look at whether we are using the right products and we need to spend more money
on drainage. Slopes will need to be shallower and designed with more strength and we need to look
at the vegetation we are planting around the roads."

Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) chairman Jim Crick welcomed the study and said the effects of climate change showed an urgent need for an extra £1bn of road maintenance spending to bring UK road condition up to the standard set as acceptable by the AIA’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey.

"We have got to go to depth, we can’t just keep maintaining the surface [and expect] to sort out this problem and make our road surfaces more durable in the long term."

The report, The Effect of Climate Change on Carriageway and Footway Pavement Maintenance, is expected to be published early in the New Year.

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