Tuesday, 26 Apr 2022  |  Reading time:  12 mins  | Read online

Maintaining local roads

This week, we’re looking at road maintenance – as "pothole season" gets underway in the Northern Hemisphere and flood-hit Australian councils face thousands of potholes, stretching budgets and risking driver safety.

Local road quality is a highly visible issue. It affects how residents feel about where they live and in turn how they vote in local elections – impacting other services. Many believe that managing potholes is local government’s main role. As an example of this, new Ipsos local election polling showed that half of British voters thought the condition of roads and pavements needed improving – the most of any local feature polled.

Why do potholes matter? Hitting potholes or swerving to avoid them can cause vehicle damage and/or accidents, risking serious injuries for drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and road workers. In the USA alone, damage caused by potholes cost drivers an estimated $26.5 billion last year, resulting in a potentially hefty insurance claim burden for councils on top of repair costs.

Why might road quality be getting worse? Continued council funding cuts combined with increasing responsibilities creates an ongoing challenge, compounded by pandemic backlogs and workforce shortages. Climate change is likely to worsen potholes, by causing temperature variation and higher groundwater levels. Road uses are changing too, leading to new pressures on roads from freight and last-mile travel, particularly in urban areas.

What can local government do? Preventive maintenance is much more cost effective than reactive repairs, but irregular funding can make this challenging. Some councils are trying new (though expensive) materials to make roads more climate resilient. Many municipalities are using data and analytics to better monitor their road network. Councils can engage the community in pothole reporting and repairs through accessible apps, web pages and phone lines – and emphasise this is safer and more durable than DIY efforts.

Who inspired us this week? Potholes have inspired songs, artworks – and now video games! Read on to find out more about the latter. We also liked an initiative helping the Irish roads network to adapt to climate change and a free resource bank containing everything you need to know about pavements.

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Click here to find out more about Global Local from LGIU

This week's featured content

Infrastructure workforce skills gaps:
implications for local government

By Nicole Jelwan, SGS Economics and Planning

Australia is facing a public infrastructure workforce crisis, as demand for public infrastructure is forecast to reach unprecedented levels over the next three years.

Some occupations are experiencing short-term acute shortages, whereas other shortages are reflective of systemic issues in the industry. There are many occupations with likely or potential shortages. This presents a major challenge as when Australia’s projected infrastructure pipeline increases, existing shortages will worsen and new challenges will emerge.

Efforts to grow the workforce are compromised by a range of cultural, geographical, diversity, and education issues that constrain the sectors’ ability to rapidly grow its workforce. The Australian public infrastructure sector has historically relied on a mostly male Australian workforce, as well as migrants to fill vacancies. However, reliance on these workers is unsustainable to meet anticipated demand, and future labour supply will come from different sources.

So how can local government help to grow and diversify the public infrastructure workforce? 

LGIU Global Local Highlights


The black hole of politics

There is perhaps no local issue that unifies political parties so much as the pothole. No one likes them. Everyone thinks they should be filled more quickly. So how exactly do potholes form? And what’s a councillor to do?
Read this article here.


Understanding the real costs of inner city depot and property asset disposal

This briefing explores pressures facing councils when balancing urban renewal aspirations in high value locations with the need to the retain land for necessary but potentially less attractive land uses, featuring an Australian case.
Read this briefing here.

The impact of new technology on transport

Many developed countries may have passed ‘peak car’ level. This briefing considers how local road networks can accommodate emerging forms of mobility, from electric vehicles to Mobility as a Service, micromobility, and self-driving cars. 
Read this briefing here.

Innovation & Inspiration

Curated case studies from around the globe

FINLAND: Bio-based road marking introduced to reduce microplastics

The City of Helsinki seeks to limit microplastics released through road marking wear and tear by using a new compound. The City’s construction services public enterprise, Stara, switched from using an oil-based resin to a compound containing a resin made of tall oil. This new road marking compound generates considerably fewer microplastics when worn down and has a lower carbon footprint. While some existing subcontractors already use the bio-based compound, the City intends to tighten its tender’s environmental criteria to require its use throughout.

SOUTH AFRICA: ‘Pothole Patrol’ brings together public and private sector

The City of Johannesburg has teamed up with two competing insurers to repair more than 80,000 potholes and improve road safety across the city. Road users can report potholes via the Pothole Patrol app or by saying ‘Hi’ to a WhatsApp bot (at 084 POT HOLE). The Pothole Patrol repairs potholes measuring up to one square metre and passes on information about larger repairs needed to either the Johannesburg Roads Agency (regarding construction damage) or Joburg Water (if related to underlying water).
The Media Online / MyBroadband

USA: ‘Equity Zone’ to prioritise repaving historically disadvantaged areas

Berkeley City Council approved a major repaving policy overhaul in January that includes prioritising repaving for areas that have experienced historic underinvestment, particularly due to racially discriminatory “redlining” policies. Neighbouring City of Oakland’s 2019 equity-focused paving plan inspired the policy. Berkeley’s overhaul also shifts repair priorities from arterial to residential roads, promotes permeable paving use, and discourages non-emergency repairs on repaved streets for five years. Berkeley also seeks to increase property taxes to fund repaving sustainably through a potentially controversial November ballot measure.
Berkeleyside / Berkeleyside

IRELAND: Road network climate resilience boosted through guidance

Targeted guidance, resources and asset management systems have been developed for local authorities in Ireland to improve the climate resilience of the regional and local roads network. Design, maintenance and rehabilitation strategies, key climate adaptation interventions, and guidance supporting local authority staff to implement measures were identified and established through the Climate Action Regional Office of the Atlantic Seaboard South Region project. After mapping vulnerable locations, a cost-benefit analysis-based decision making resource was used to help allocate grants of over €31 million to local authorities for climate adaptation projects.
LGIU & CARO: Economic Opportunities from Climate Action report

More: Click here to read more about maintaining Ireland's local and regional road network in this briefing.

Policy & Resources

Resources: Pavement Interactive
Pavement Interactive is a free knowledge bank aimed at a range of users. It includes explainers, images and references about pavement materials, construction, maintenance, design, management – and more! Access the resources here.

Case studies: Asphalt Industry Alliance (UK)
The Asphalt Industry Alliance has collected UK local government case studies highlighting lower carbon approaches to road maintenance, from Westminster City Council using 85% recycled material for resurfacing to a long-life binder trial to extend the lifespan of motorway road surfaces. Find out more here.

Research article: The Politics of Potholes – Service Quality and Retrospective Voting in Local Elections
This interesting article explores to what extent the number of complaints about potholes affects voting decisions at municipal elections, using data from different neighbourhoods in San Diego, USA, as a case study. Read the article here.

Communications: City of Alexandria, VA, & City of Topeka, KS (USA)
It is vital for councils to communicate clearly and transparently to maintain trust and manage expectations around potholes. The City of Alexandria’s website has helpful paving FAQs, pavement condition rating images, and clear calls to action. The City of Topeka answers pothole FAQs in an engaging and accessible way, including: “Will there ever be an end to potholes? Are we ever going to catch up?”

And finally

‘Road Maintenance Simulator’ video game takes pothole repair online
A new computer game that launched this month allows gamers to experience life as a road maintenance worker in Germany. Road Maintenance Simulator contains 30 missions for players to complete, including trimming trees, replacing safety barriers, and collecting roadside litter. The game features a virtual depot, a variety of driveable vehicles, and a range of realistic tools.

Click on the following links to either:

Thanks for reading

Next week, we'll be looking at innovative approaches to managing homelessness. In two weeks, we'll explore the pressing issue of extreme heat.

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