Earlier this month local authorities across the UK started to come to terms with the Traffi c Management Act (TMA).
Designed by transport secretary Alistair Darling to cut delays caused by road works, the Act empowers councils to crack down on utility companies which seem to dig up Britain's roads at will.
Each local authority has been required to appoint a traffic manager to receive requests to open up roads and ensure works are co-ordinated to minimise disruption. Initially their powers are limited, but from early next year utilities will be forced to pay for every hour that a road is blocked.
But the Act comes with a bite - any traffic manager deemed by the Department for Transport (DfT) to have failed in his duties will be ousted and replaced by someone of the DfT's choosing.
So affic manager is not a job for the faint hearted, especially for a local authority responsible for the busiest and highest profile roads in Britain.
Enter Nick Morris, Transport for London director of road traffic performance and, under the TMA, traffic manager for London.
'There are 27M journeys a day made on London's 13,000km road network. But of these journeys half pass through just 1,000km, ' explains Morris.
'Our jurisdiction extends over 508km with the other 500km borough roads over which TfL has 'oversight'.' 'There is a huge load on these roads so the Act is going to be vital, ' he says. 'When I started here a few months ago we didn't know how many of our roads were being dug up.' The no nonsense approach to roadworks will extend to TfL's own highway works teams.
'We have to be exemplary in this, ' says Morris. 'That is really important and is quite a challenge to embed that in the business.' To ensure that there are no favours for TfL workers, a Network Assurance Team has been set up within TfL to handle applications. 'TfL will have to apply to them for permits, and a TfL application will be looked at alongside all others, ' adds Morris.
All applications to work in the road will be input into London Works, a bespoke IT system that will pinpoint them on a GIS map. In time, this system will be expanded to include all work - from major road improvements to routine maintenance. It also accounts for planned events such as the Notting Hill Carnival.
The overriding objective of the TMA is, however, to improve co-ordination of occasional, unplanned works.
But what will improved coordination look like on the ground?
'Intuitively, if we do well we will reduce congestion, ' says Morris.
'But the Act is basically about managing the supply of road space. And we don't know what that will do for demand.' Real improvement is expected when TfL and other local authorities start issuing permits.
Permits will be issued with conditions attached, including the dates during which works can take place.
Other conditions are related to reducing disruption.
Public consultation on the proposals took place between February and April 2005 and the DfT is analysing responses.
The nal code of practice is expected to be published early next year.
'We should be looking at incentivising contractors to do work at the right times, rather than penalising them for poor performance, ' he says.
'You would have to make decisions on a site by site basis, and balance the needs of residents. But if we could somehow incentivise to do work outside peak hours we could make a big difference in congestion.' Between then and now TfL - like every other local authority - is restricted to collating notifications of plans to open up roads on its London Works system.
'At least now we get an idea of the size of the problem, ' says Morris.