Actions needed to improve the management of street works

3rd Jan 2019

This blog post provides additional comments to the technical paper published in the 2019 January issue of Transportation Professional which updates both the highway authority and utility company views on the positive actions considered necessary to drive forward appropriate improvements in street works management. Any comments and feedback would be appreciated.

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Street Works Management, Procedures and Regulations

Legislation

Updating of the existing legislation is essential to ensure it reflects current practices for street works to be managed effectively. The regulations were initially drafted when most utilities were in public ownership and management is now more complex.

Currently, the Highways Authorities and Utilities Committee (HAUC (UK)) community are working with the government looking at current legislation and the necessary actions needed to take account of the many changes that have taken place in the industry over the last 25 years. As updating legislation is not an option at the moment, any effective changes will need to be under a self-regulatory basis within HAUC(UK). At the same time, the HAUC(UK) needs to be mindful of a preferred consistency across the four domestic countries.

Permit Schemes

The use of Permit Schemes should be encouraged, particularly for congested roads, to mitigate the impact that works have on highway users based on the guidance document regarding the ‘Operation of Permits’ commissioned by HAUC England.

Street Works UK (the former NJUG) has consistently argued that Permit Schemes should be limited to only higher road categories, where the disruptive effect of works on the highway is more identifiable. The Secretary of State has recently requested that those authorities who do not operate a Permit Scheme should confirm their intention to operate one from 2019. Utilities have raised concerns over a lack of demonstrable benefits from Permit Scheme in lower road categories. However, SWUK believes it is important that, where Permit Schemes are introduced, there is a need to minimise the variation in Permit Schemes to provide consistency for companies which carry out street works, particularly across different areas. While there are varying needs for different authorities, a set of 5-6 standard permit schemes (i.e. for urban areas, rural areas, suburban areas etc) should suffice.

Lane Rental

An extension of the use of Lane Rental should be considered by highway authorities for the most congested roads to assist in the better management of street works to mitigate further disruption to traffic, particularly on the strategic network and major principal roads.

Street Works UK is strongly opposed to Lane Rental schemes which they consider do not provide any tools that do not already exist in current legislation and only adds another layer of complexity on top of existing permit schemes. Highway authorities already possess powers including the duty to coordinate and manage street works. However, permit schemes allow authorities to control the timing of works by directing utilities to conduct works at certain times for set durations.

The Secretary of State’s approval process for lane rental must be effective with sufficient controls in place for schemes to be targeted and managed.

Regulation

Policies vary between individual utility regulators and their effectiveness needs to be reviewed. It can be difficult to resolve all issues by agreement without appropriate supportive regulation.

Whilst the utility regulators are concerned with the delivery of utility services to businesses and residents, there needs to be a greater understanding of the regulations that utilities are obliged to comply with whilst installing and maintaining their apparatus in the highway. There have been a number of conflicts of interests between government departments that supervise the regulators and highways authorities.

Skill Shortages

There is a diminishing pool of adequately qualified and experienced staff in highway authorities to supervise street works. Equally, an adequately trained utility workforce of appropriately accredited personnel is also a significant resource issue.

Currently, there is much work ongoing within HAUC(UK) to review recruitment and training for both authorities and utilities. This is an ongoing issue with a need for parity for all works and consistency across all four domestic countries.

Incentives

There are both financial and reputational benefits for utility companies and contractors in ‘doing it right first time’ and minimising the impact on road users. As a last resort, the current levels of the many financial penalties are often not considered sufficient to be a deterrent.

Level 5 fines are now uncapped and this may now act as a deterrent. Furthermore, legislation could be extended to cover other third parties working on the highway under s38 and s274 of the Highways Act. The use of FPNs for more offences may encourage compliance with the legislation.

Duration and Safety

The duration and impact of works must be minimised which will also assist in reducing the safety risks to both the utility workforce and the road user. The common objectives must be to improve the network whilst considering the needs of the highway user.

Utilities and their contractor partners are fully aware of the impact that both the duration and safety of their works have on the travelling public. By adopting good practice, they intend to work with local HAs to mitigate disruption to the road user and ensure their safety as well as that of the workforce.

Reinstatements, Inspection Regimes and Asset Management

Specification

A review is essential to reflect current practices, improve compliance and the overall quality of reinstatements. Failing reinstatements and the delays caused by repeated road works inconvenience both businesses and the public and are invariably a cost to the highway authority.

A review of the Specification for the Reinstatement of Openings in Highways (SROH) 4th Edition is currently ongoing in England. The current 3rd edition can be found here. The review includes looking at breaking down barriers to innovation, which will support a reduction of road occupation and minimise disruption. Concurrent reviews are also being carried out to the Inspections and the Coordination Codes of Practice to comply with changes that are expected with the planned introduction of ‘Street Manager’ by DfT.

Compaction

Whilst the short term surface performance of reinstatements is improving, compaction issues are more complex and the specification for surfacing materials and trench backfills needs to be reviewed.

This is now ongoing in England as part of the review of the Specification supplemented by the work of the T&A HAUC Working Party. Potholes are also a constant issue of public complaint, including many media and political comments, and some can be linked to reinstatement failures.

Inspections

Whilst inspection procedures include monitoring arrangements, utilities must also monitor their own performance. The inspection regulations need re-considering and perhaps the current guarantee period should be extended to deal with short/medium term defects.

Work on the Inspections Code of Practice has been ongoing for many years and a number of voluntary guidance and advice papers have been prepared and published in England and Wales. The whole of the inspections legislation needs to be overhauled as is not consistent with current practices and changes in regulations. It is unfortunate that there are no immediate plans for the government to look at this and again the HAUC community will need to consider the way forward.

Place Issues

Reinstatements have a significant environmental impact on public spaces, particularly where multiple reinstatements develop into “patchwork quilts”. Deterioration of reinstatements together with ‘patchy roads and footpaths’ remain the subject of public complaints and concerns have previously been raised by the Transport Select Committee.

There is legislation in respect to this in the Traffic Management Act. Unfortunately, the relevant sections have not been ratified but consideration could be made by DfT’s consultant, the Arup-Aecom joint venture, which is reviewing wider industry elements and assessing what could be included in the Specification.

Long-Term Damage

The long-term damage clauses and impact assessments in both the NRSWA and the TMA are sections that have not been implemented. Introducing a reinstatement charge to compensate for the premature maintenance caused by failing reinstatements is seen as being essential by those maintaining the highway asset to cover the additional costs incurred based on the ‘polluter pays principle’.

Six years of research by TRL to investigate the long-term performance of reinstated trenches and the adjacent pavements was completed in 2009 and commissioned by the CSS (now ADEPT), DfT and TfL. This confirmed that reinstatements could contribute to surface, visual and structural deterioration resulting in the need for premature maintenance of carriageways and footways which is currently having to be funded from existing highway budgets.

The total additional maintenance costs due to reinstatements in England were estimated to be over £70.1m in 2007/08. A charge structure has been proposed to be levied against those opening the highway to recover the additional maintenance costs incurred and supplement increasingly overstretched maintenance budgets. Street Works UK do not support these proposals.

Communication and Data Management

Media use: by incorporating more street works information into media reports for programmed road works the public will have a better understanding and be better informed.

On-line information: whilst the programming and management of street works is the responsibility of the utility companies, real-time updating of work programmes should be available on highway authority websites, however, their credibility relies on the provision of accurate and reliable data.

Data Sharing: co-ordination of programmes is dependent upon the provision and regular updating of programmes and arrangements for sharing data on works progress need to be reviewed. Whilst providing real-time information is challenging and resource intensive, reliable information is essential.

Information on site: information boards, including electronic signs for more major works, should be provided both in advance of and during works to provide a better understanding by the public and reduce the likelihood of complaints.

Increased Understanding: both within the industry and for all organisations involved there is a need for a greater understanding of how the utility sector and highway authorities already co-operate widely in the management of street works, including the roles of HAUC(UK), JAG(UK) and Street Works UK.

In respect to the above five topics, the Industry is generally poor at informing the road user of both forthcoming and on-going street and roadworks that have a disruptive effect on using the highway. Highway authorities have a network management duty (TMA 2004) to mitigate disruption and together with utilities they try to achieve this objective. Both parties should use the many channels available to inform the general public and, in particular, the road user, of works that will cause major traffic disruption or have other impacts on travel including any delays in their completion.

Many highway authority, utility and third-party websites are able to provide the location of street and road works spatially but unfortunately, the information is obtained from a source that does not provide real-time data which sometimes can be inaccurate.

The current DfT Street Manager initiative is being designed to overcome the problem of delayed or inaccurate data giving road users, utilities, and has the opportunity to make informed decisions about travel disruption and the planning of works on the highway. Street Manager will provide ‘open data’ which will be freely available which can be published in any way that anyone wants which can only be a great benefit of the road user. Both HAs and Utilities need to embrace modern technology and initiatives in communication and data interpretation to provide reliable information for Street Manager if it is to be a success.

An edited version of this blog post was published in the January 2019 edition of Transportation Professional. It has been peer-reviewed by the CIHT Network Management & Operations Panel.

Blog post and technical paper are written by:

  • Roger Elphick, OBE, FCIHT, MICE, Independent Consultant
  • Roger Culpin, MICE, Independent Consultant
  • Alan Rainford, FCIHT, MICE, Street-Works UK
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