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Send in the hit squad

Few civil engineers will be surprised by the message delivered by the National Road Maintenance Condition Survey (see News). It is obvious to most people, let alone engineers, that the UK's roads are in a shocking state.

What might come as a surprise to those not living in the most benighted areas is the near total state of collapse of some local road networks. That over half of principal roads in 10% of English and Welsh local authorities have a residual life of four years or less is a disgrace.

Holes in the road might be a staple of local newspaper letters columns - and therefore a bit of a joke - but engineers know what impact road quality can have on safety and the efficient carriage of goods and people.

Unless action is taken, the quality of some local road networks could make them unusable - in any practical sense - within very few years. Yes, more money is needed, but that might not be enough.

Some local authorities, whether through lack of nous, political will or expertise, may struggle to bring their road networks up to standard.

This must not be allowed to happen. One of the most important factors in an integrated transport network is that it will only be as good as its weakest link.

Such is the scale of vehicle movement in the UK, particularly on short journeys, that deficiencies in one locality can have a significant impact on its neighbours.

But a solution is at hand. The Government has already crossed the rubicon as far intervening in the affairs of individual local authorities goes. It should follow the example it has set in education - although perhaps acting with a little more sensitivity - and develop road maintenance hit squads to help out struggling councils.

As the re-organisation of the Highways Agency (see News) brings it closer to local authorities, it should be given this new 'emergency' role without delay.

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