Latest analysis shows that the problem of crumbling roads now appears to be escalating out of control and urgently needs an injection of £1bn a year.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says the overall repair bill has been steadily growing. According to statistics from the Asphalt Industry Alliance's annual local authority road maintenance (ALARM) survey, the total has risen from £9.8bn in 2012 to £11.8 bn last year. At this current rate, it is projected to rise to £14bn by around 2019, which is more than three times councils' entire annual revenue spending on highways and transport (£4.4bn).
Meanwhile, the time it would take to fix all the pothols on local authority roads in England and Wales has surged from an estimated 10.9 years in 2006 to 14 years in 2016. Councils fix almost two million potholes a year – an average of 12,000 potholes for each local authority. Yet the average English authority currently faces a £69m estimated one-time cost to bring its roads up to a reasonable condition.
To reverse this trend, the LGA is calling for the government to inject a further £1bn a year into roads maintenance. This could be achieved by investing 2p per litre of existing fuel duty, the LGA suggests, although it does not advocate any increase in fuel duty rates to fund it.
According to LGA analysis, over the next three years, the government is spending more than £1.1m per mile on maintaining national roads, which make up just 3% of the network but only £27,000 per mile is going on local road maintenance, which make up 97% of the network.
LGA transport spokesman Martin Tett said: “This year could be a tipping point year regarding potholes and councils, who have experienced significant budget reductions, now face the looming prospect of a bill of £14bn to bring the nation's roads up to scratch.
“It is wrong and unfair that the government allocates almost 40 times more to maintaining national roads, which it controls, compared with local roads, which are overseen by councils. It is paramount this funding discrepancy is swiftly plugged.
“It is becoming increasingly urgent to address the roads crisis we face as a nation. Councils fixed a pothole every 15 seconds again last year despite significant budget reductions leaving them with less to spend on fixing our crumbling roads. Local authorities are proving remarkably efficient in how they use this diminishing funding pot but they remain trapped in a frustrating cycle that will only ever leave them able to patch up our deteriorating roads.
“Our roads crisis is only going to get worse unless we address it as a national priority. The government's own traffic projections predict a potential increase in local traffic of up to 55% by 2040. Councils desperately need long-term and consistent funding to invest in the resurfacing projects which our road network desperately needs over the next decade.”
Asphalt Industry Alliance chairman Alan Mackenzie added: “Prolonged under investment, coupled with wetter winters, increased traffic and an ageing network, means that the resilience of our local roads is at a low point. Clearing the maintenance backlog is impossible without a significant increase in funding.
“The fact remains that our local road network receives only a fraction of the funding allocated to the strategic road network and this disparity needs to be tackled proactively if further decline is to be prevented.
“Reallocating a few pence from existing fuel duty might prove an equitable way of turning the tide, as could previous calls for vehicle excise duty to be redirected to local roads from 2021. Either way, the LGA is right that time is running out and that local roads maintenance should now be a national priority.”