What is Devon County Council's roads maintenance backlog?

The current estimated spending required to bring the most deteriorated road surfaces into good condition is £167 million.

What funding is needed?

To prevent further deterioration to the structure of Devon’s highway network we need £55 million per year. This would only enable us to keep the highway in its current condition. This includes all roads, footpaths, streetlights, bridges and drainage systems etc. To prevent further deterioration of the road surface, would alone cost £38 million per year.

What funding is available?

Government allocated £40.8 million to Devon County Council in 2017/18 for all highway capital works including carriageways, bridges and structures, street lighting, road restraint systems, drainage features etc.

An additional £10.7 million was secured by the County Council through a successful challenge and incentive fund. Each year an additional amount is spent on revenue functions, such as, salting the roads in winter and grass cutting.

For further information visit our Roads and transport webpages.

What is the long term strategy?

Government funding going forward will factor in a highway authority’s approach to asset management principles. For authorities to maximise their grant funding it will be necessary to demonstrate the application of sound asset management principles in determining needs and in investment decision making. Devon has been recognised as one of the top authorities in England for asset management by the Department for Transport and this puts Devon in a good position for the future. However, it is most unlikely that the level of funding will match the level of maintenance need.

Sound asset management principles mean that we prioritise investment in the busiest roads.

Our planned structural maintenance programme is designed to keep assets sound by building resilience and to reduce long term costs. There is also a large surface dressing programme, which restores surface texture, can improve skidding resistance and slow water penetration into the structure of the road thus prolonging its life.

Why are some roads treated when other local roads in the area are in a worse condition?

Our approach includes a programme of preventative work such as surface dressing, so does not always select the repair of the worst roads first.

The preventative maintenance strategy is making sure that we get the best value out of our funding. A “worst first” approach has been demonstrated to be over 30% more expensive in the long run as it would allow roads in a reasonable condition to deteriorate, resulting in more costly treatments.

What works are planned for this year?

The Highway Structural Maintenance Programme is available on our website on the Progress on Works Programme section.

What are the plans for minor roads that are not a priority for the future programme?

It is evident through safety inspections and condition surveys, that there are many minor roads that would benefit from structural maintenance. However, for the foreseeable future the priority will be to keep busier roads in a serviceable condition with the limited resources available.

The Council will use reasonable endeavours to fulfil its basic legal obligation to keep all roads that are maintainable at public expense in a state of repair that allows for the reasonably safe passage for all normal ordinary traffic using the road. This essentially means that individual safety defect potholes (holes greater than 300mm wide and 40mm deep with a vertical-edge) will be programmed for repair in accordance with our policy, when the authority becomes aware of them.

In extreme cases we may need to close sections of road temporarily or if possible permanently if alternative access to property is available, to protect the safety of the travelling public.

What hope is there for rural minor roads given the financial situation we are in?

There is a shortfall in the annual funding available to maintain the entire minor road network in a steady state. However, we can still use a data-led approach to identify programmes of work to ensure the available funding is spent wisely. We are interested in sharing this with communities, identifying and agreeing with them a minor road resilience network. This may mean some tough choices on managing a retreat in planned maintenance work on certain roads.

Isn’t it better to do a proper surfacing scheme rather than come back lots of times to fix potholes?

Yes and we are using data associated with pothole repairs to select such schemes. However, there is a shortfall in the funding needed to address the backlog and retain road condition in a steady state. It is often necessary to undertake pothole repairs to keep roads safe as there is insufficient funding to do more substantive treatments.

We put pothole reports on the system and they get taken off, what’s going on?

Potholes are only removed from the system if we can see that they have already been reported or if they have been visited and do not meet the criteria of a safety defect in terms of size and depth.

Potholes will also be removed from the system upon completion of repair.

How can you say your contractor is efficient when we see them stood around doing nothing?

There can be a number of reasons for crews standing:

  • Weather conditions. Not just the wet but also temperatures and visibility can delay works from proceeding as planned.
  • Delays with materials being delivered to site. Hot road materials are often required with high demand on the quarries which are few and far between particularly in the north of the county.
  • Breaks. Our crews take their breaks when convenient in relation to the works being undertaken and not at specified times. They don’t generally return to a depot as this wastes time. They usually take their breaks on site or park off the highway in a layby so as not to disrupt the flow of traffic unnecessarily.
  • Waiting whilst Temporary Traffic Management is being established.
  • Waiting for traffic flows to go down in order to set-up traffic management.
  • We often use a “gateman” at a road closure who might appear to be standing around. They are there to direct traffic and allow local residents to gain access to their properties.

Wherever possible and safe to do so, our crews have been instructed to make use of their time if they incur delays by carrying out other minor highway maintenance work such as cleaning signs, removing debris off tops of gully gratings or general cleaning of other road drainage features.

Why don’t you fix all defects when you come to a section of road?

County Council policy, in common with national guidelines, stipulates that a pothole must be of a certain size and depth to be classed as a safety defect. When potholes come through from the public, we often find that the criteria isn’t met and the crew will move on to the next job.

If we were to fix everything, we would not meet our response times to the ones which are safety defects and really matter. Increasing the number of repair crews to cope with a “fix everything” policy would put an enormous strain on ever decreasing budgets.

Am I liable if I do some work on the highway under your self-help scheme?

If work is being taken under the supervision a trained warden appointed by the parish or town council as part of our Road Warden Scheme. In the unlikely event of a claim being made, Devon County Council will cover the public liability aspect of insurance for voluntary maintenance work undertaken on or in the area of the public highway or footway, providing that it is undertaken in a safe manner according to Devon County Council’s advice. This, for example, would cover any claims by third party as a result of the maintenance works, which the County Council would defend if those maintenance works were carried out in accordance with DCC guidance.

Devon County Council will not provide any other form of insurance cover for maintenance activities which must be undertaken at the volunteer’s own risk. So, for example, any damage to one’s own person, property or vehicle would not be covered. If vehicles are to be used (e.g. farmers using tractors) then they must ensure that the vehicle is suitably insured for such activity – if in doubt, owners should check with the vehicle’s insurer. If a community group considers that further insurance cover is required, then this should be sought from their own insurance company.

What do you mean by “managing demand”?

With the highway maintenance revenue budget under pressure, managing demand is an important part of our strategy.

  • An increasing number of rural minor roads are subject to temporary road closures, as routine safety defect repairs are not affordable. These roads will be assessed for our future planned resurfacing programme and those considered beyond economic repair will be considered for downgrading or stopping up with the associated consultation and legal processes.
  • A proactive review of the minor road network is underway in a number of pilot parishes. The aim is to identify sections of minor routes that have acceptable alternatives and do not provide access to residential properties. These will be considered for downgrading, with associated traffic regulation orders, or for ‘stopping up’ (this is a road ceasing to be a highway). This will be accompanied by appropriate community consultation in advance of the formal legal process…
  • An important part of our strategy is to improve our public information. Our IT contact will ensure that information on our policies, programmes, fault reports received and works awaiting completion will be directly accessible to customers, reducing the need for direct contact with staff

Are local communities able to carry out highway maintenance works?

A number of parish and town councils and community organisations, have expressed a desire to carry out minor works within their communities, which the council do not have a legal obligation to undertake. As a result of this feedback we have introduced a range of community self-help options. Further information is available on our communities webpages

How can you say you are efficient when so much material gets wasted?

Devon Highways have demonstrated year-on-year improvements in efficiency through better planning, programming and adopting a one team approach between the County Council and its contractor.

Materials wastage is kept to a minimum. Typically a hotbox crew might have 1 to 2 wheelbarrows to dispose of at the end of the day. Crews are encouraged to usefully use whatever is left at the end of the day on the highway, e.g. filling verge over-runs.

When put into perspective materials wastage is minimal, when you consider that we lay in excess of 100,000 tonnes of surfacing material every year. As part of our re-surfacing, patching and potholing activities.