Highways network on road to ruin

Britain's main roads are deteriorating faster than they can be maintained, leading to extra delays and unreadable traffic signs, the head of the Highways Agency has warned.

Lawrie Haynes, chief executive of the Highways Agency, has admitted that routine maintenance tasks are no longer being carried out.

In a letter to the Tory MP Nicholas Winterton, he says that this has resulted in "an increasingly untidy and unkempt trunk road network about which the agency and ministers already receive a large number of complaints. The agency has been forced to reduce the amount of drain and ditch-cleansing, grass-cutting, litter clearance and sign-cleaning".

The amount of money spent on road maintenance has been reduced by pounds 100m over the past two years and Mr Haynes says that he needs an increase in the trunk-road maintenance budget from pounds 526m to pounds 600m next year "to prevent further deterioration".

While Mr Haynes is clearly putting in an advance bid during the run-up to the announcement of spending plans in November's Budget, he is able to cite instances where traffic is being delayed because of the lack of investment and of where lack of maintenance will lead to extra expenditure later.

Mr Haynes says: "We are unable to carry out preventative works, such as repainting steel bridges and other cost-effective treatments such as renewing life-expired roads using a strengthening overlay."

This is much cheaper than rebuilding the road which becomes necessary if such maintenance work is not carried out. On the A14 through East Anglia, a 50mph advisory speed restriction has been imposed because "funds are not available to deal with ruts in the road surface".

The agency's formula for pricing delays to road users, which involves giving a value of around pounds 7 for every hour's delay, suggests that extra costs of pounds 18,000 per day are being incurred, a total of pounds 6.6m per year.

The RAC, which obtained Mr Haynes's letter, backs up the evidence in it with examples from around the country. Edmund King, the RAC's head of campaigns, said: "On the A6 near Disley (Cheshire) the grass has grown so high that locals have renamed it the Hay 6."

He says that road signs near Manchester are becoming obscured with green algae and sticky deposits from trees. Debris seen on roads include a kitchen sink which fell from a truck on to the middle lane of the M11, a porcelain toilet on the M4 and an empty dog kennel on the A1 near Newcastle.

Mr King said: "It is a scandal that the nation's infrastructure is being allowed to crumble into disrepair."

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