Friday, 26 March 2010

Going Potty Over Potholes

Those who drive, some who walk, but especially those who ride bikes, manual or motor will have noticed that across the land potholes have been sprinkled over our roads like fairy dust upon a moonbeam. A representative of the Local Government Association, motto “Your money or your life” has been roundly blaming the utilities for their indiscriminate digging and delving activities that, I quote, “have wrecked the structure of the roads.”

Before you mob rush off with your pitchforks and cattle prods to put up stakes and pile on the brushwood, I have to tell you it is not as simple as that.

Why do the utilities dig up roads? Because in the last 150 years we have required a lot of services we regard as essential to be installed below the surface. It began with drains and water, then we had gas, then electricity, then telephones later complex telecommunications and lately cable TV and other things.

Now there is not only a lot more down there, but the pace of development and change entails more activity. In other countries some of these facilities are carried above ground at much less cost.

Add to this the older services were often installed at a time when less robust systems were the rule and are now past their effective life. During the mid to late 20th Century the maintenance budgets of the local authorities and other bodies were often insufficient to keep them all up to standard and were the first parts of the spending to suffer any cuts being made.

There are other factors. The insistence of the government on extensive high intensity building adds to the pressures on existing services and systems. Also, we forget the earth moves. Water tables can go up and down, subsidence is common in many areas, and tree growth can impact on sub surface structures. There are other things as well to add to the movement.

The trouble is that our local authorities have forgotten what they were created for in the first place. Governments have piled on so many new jobs, initiatives and notions about what they might do that councillors have been giving themselves all sorts of airs and graces uttered in modern management speak, garbage in garbage out.

One of the basic duties was to enable people to move around on roads easily. Recently, it seems that many authorities are trying to make it as difficult as they can and as for keeping a reliable surface on the roads ours has certainly abandoned direct responsibility for that.

There are two other important matters. One is the practice of minimising reserve capability to deal with less common or rare events, such as a bad winter, or a wet summer. The other is the actual vehicles using the roads.

We do a fair amount of driving on the local minor roads and back roads often in the rural parts of our county. These are where the activities of the utilities is far less and there can be long stretches untouched by these organisations. But the numbers of potholes are not fewer, they are often more, and the increasing rate of breakup of the road surface as well as the degradation of the sides and verges is remarkable.

Why should this be? Because so many trucks and other vehicles are bigger, heavier, go much faster and give the road surface a real pounding. Also, there are a great many more of such larger vehicles using the roads for various reasons. So they are taking a great deal more heavy punishment. Not only are many of the lesser trunk roads deteriorating fast, but many of the minor roads and country lanes are in a very bad state.

The reason why the structure of these roads is being damaged is because that structure was never strong enough to take this sort of use.

The ugly truth is that if we wish to consume more and have more and need many more bigger and heavier vehicles to carry all this as well as ourselves on all the journeys we make then not only do we have to fill in the potholes, we are going to have to rebuild the basic structure of almost all our road system.

This will cost money and the local authorities are pretending that someone else should pay, notably the utilities so they can concentrate on their more airy fairy functions and prestige projects.

But may I ask, whose money is it that pays for the utilities?

1 comment:

  1. With some minor changes and changing the name roads to country you could be just as easily be talking about the state of the UK.