Highways England: road condition down as programme revision continues

Surface condition on England's strategic road network is still below established targets and a necessary revision of Highways England's capital improvement programme is expected to spread-out the start dates of some schemes, according to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). A six monthly update of the ORR's monitoring of Highways England's performance says it expects to see more realistic predictions of when capital projects will be delivered and at how much cost – reducing a current gap between cost forecasts and funding available.

Highways England is required to maintain the percentage of its network not requiring further investgation for maintenance at a minimum of 95%. Performance for 2015/16 was initially reported by the HE at 95.4%, but the reported figure had dropped to 92.3% by July 2016 as the HE by then had completed the analysis of all data collated, according to the ORR update. The HE has committed to producing a long term remedial plan for road surface condition, expected before the end of this month, with better processes for collecting and processing condition data, the interim report says.

There is no suggestion from the ORR that the drop in road surface condition has been caused by a slow-down or delay to capital improvement projects, but the HE will need to demonstrate it can deliver £11bn of capital improvement and maintenance projects on time and within budget while securing £1.2bn of efficiencies and meeting its safety and condition targets. The ORR has said the HE must demonstrate that the fall in road condition has not compromised road safety.

The HE has a programme of £11bn of capital improvements to deliver by the end of 2020/21, out of a total of £15bn described in the goverment's roads investment strategy. An updated capital baseline delivery plan is expected from the HE later this year. This is likely to mean delays to start dates for some major improvement works, partly to lessen the impact of roadworks on road users.

The revision of the capital baseline plan should reduce but not eliminate the difference between the forecast costs and funding available. Much of this gap is due to 'over-programming' – the planning and initial preparation of schemes to ensure enough work is developed, in case some schemes cannot be started. The ORR says the HE must show how it intends to manage-down this gap.

The HE will also have to submit its revised baseline plan to the Department for Transport for approval through an established change control process. The ORR has commissioned independent reviews of the HE's major schemes programme and portfolio management, the results of which will form part of the ORR's next full HE progress report in the summer of this year.

In response to the ORR's latest interim report, HE chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “We have read the report and noted it makes clear we are committed to delivering safe reliable roads that deliver value for money for the taxpayer. We are confident we will deliver this large programme without overspending our budget.

“We have added around 100 lane miles of much-needed motorway capacity since April 2015, currently have 17 schemes in construction and are providing funding  towards eight schemes which will help deliver thousands of new jobs and homes.

“In addition, by December, we had completed more than 630 miles of resurfacing and fully expect to exceed our year-end target of 750 miles.”