Saturday, 7 February 2015

Council's haven't enough cash to look after the roads we've got. Why adopt more?


There's a set of reasons for Council highway departments 'adopting' new highway. Partly this is because, if the developer does the work to standard, they have no choice and partly it's because we seem incapable of creating any means of managing highway that doesn't involve the very inefficient process of collecting taxes in one place and setting budgets in another.

The roads on new estates - the one's thrown up by the big housebuilders - aren't serving the wider public. They are there specifically and absolutely for the benefit of the people who buy the houses on that estate. Yet our system believes that looking after those roads should be a duty for the local council rather than a sensible responsibility for the residents.

Now think about looking after those roads. And then read this:

What would our neighborhoods look like if we voluntarily reduced the amount of infrastructure? This isn’t a purely academic question. As municipal, state, and federal budgets get squeezed there’s going to be a point at which we have no choice but to stop building new roads and even reduce the amount of maintenance on the roads we already have. We could approach this situation with dread and a sense of loss, or we could embrace it as an opportunity to get a better quality of life for a whole lot less money.

This isn't about not filling in potholes nor is it about Council's not taking responsibility for what we might call the "strategic road network". Rather it's about whether you could simply hand over the responsibility for looking after estate roads to the beneficiaries - the people who own the properties and who live on the estate.

John Sanphillippo, who wrote the quote above, is an American (and we should recognise that the system over there is a little different) but he makes a pretty convincing case for us reconsidering how we design, build and manage local roads - the ones that do nothing other than take folk from the strategic network to their houses. And Sanphillippo makes the point that we'd build roads rather differently if we were responsible for their upkeep - here he is describing a new development with what we in the UK would call 'adopted highway':

What does all that paving really do for the neighborhood? You could land an Airbus A380 on this much tarmac. But what’s the point? You can be quite sure that when these roads become cracked and potholed the wealthy well-connected residents of these grand homes will mobilize and bang heads at the public works department. Somehow the government will be made to absorb the expense of repaving things even if the (very high) property taxes from these specific homes doesn’t come close to covering the real cost of maintenance. Would these home owners accept a different standard if they were directly responsible for maintaining their own road?

And it would be perfectly possible for the owners of those properties to collectively own and manage the road network serving the estate. If we are to change the relationship between citizen and government and to reconfigure public services, one of the things we have to do is ask whether some of the things we do actually are public services - the owning and managing of estate roads might just be one of the things that has to go.



Nigel Sedgwick said...

I'm going to talk about the funding of roads in the UK.

We pay a massive amount of tax for our roads, through petrol tax especially. This is a reasonably fair tax, and highly practical for those more minor or urban roads that it is not practical to charge for by tolls (any and all of which should themselves allow for the petrol tax already paid by those who drive on them). I understand that the totality of road taxes raises far more money than is actually spent on building and maintaining roads.

Thus, I have very little sympathy that there is insufficient money to fund road repairs in urban and particularly residential areas.

Most of the cause of repairs, even on minor roads, is down to wear and tear, and so proportionate to the amount of petrol tax paid for driving on said roads - in fact more so (which might be at least somewhat appropriate, see the following) as the wear and tear from lower speed traffic is less than for higher speed traffic per unit distance; also the petrol consumption for urban speed traffic is higher than for medium speed (ie non-motorway) traffic.

In so far as time-related (eg weather related, particularly frost related) wear goes against the mileage related aspect, the additional fuel consumption per unit distance is a compensating factor.

Also, on roads local to me, council repairs have been, for several years now, of a very poor quality. Temporary repairs are done (and not speedily) and then left; there are very few higher quality repairs. This itself leads to higher overall costs. It would be much better to properly repair frost damage every spring, thus reducing the repeat frost damage in the same places because of inadequate repair.

Best regards

Simon Cooke said...

The problem with motoring taxes (and the fuel duty is arguably a carban tax rather than a motoring tax) is that they're collected by national government - the responsibility for looking after most roads sits with local councils.