The deterioration of a road network begins as soon as it opens to traffic. The dynamic loads applied by vehicles, the weather conditions and the subgrade ground conditions may lead to settlements and affect the structural integrity of a road. The decay process is usually slow at the beginning and accelerates rapidly after a certain time period.
Common failures that occur in asphalt roads are known as potholes and are associated with many road accidents. Potholes are small depressions in the surface of the road caused when water enters the asphalt through cracks. When water freezes, it expands and the road surface is slightly elevated leaving a cavity below. When the uplifted surface is impacted by vehicle loads it breaks creating the pothole. In the UK, potholes are not adequately addressed. Reports regarding the existence of potholes in local authorities increased by 44% during a 2-year period (2015-2017).
To preserve the road networks, invasive works are frequently implemented aiming to repair the damage caused in the decay process. Nevertheless, efficiently applying the techniques required to restore the road and keep infrastructure projects functional is a difficult task that needs detailed planning and expertise. Here are some major challenges that the UK faces when it comes to preserving its road and infrastructure networks:
- Maintenance costs
According to reports, the repair works that need to be implemented in the UK's road and infrastructure networks would currently cost more than $14.9 billion. The repair costs are very high while the governmental funds provided for that purpose are inadequate. Most of the maintenance works are associated with uniform or differential settlements of the ground, a fact that reveals deficits in the design process of the roads since such soil behaviors should have been predicted.
- Foundation damage
Road and infrastructure networks in the UK face significant problems associated with foundation damage. The issues refer to structural damage such as cracks in pavements and foundations settlements (also associated with maintenance costs). It is assumed that it would require about 14 years to restore the damaged road network which accounts for 40% of the total road system.
- Road closures
Fixing the aforementioned issues require the closure of the road networks for a significant amount of time. This fact leads to disruption in daily transportation and to people's despair. Increasing time travel by constantly implementing repairs will not only lead to frustration but can also have a severe economic impact. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that this issue is currently abated due to the COVID-19 restrictions that have resulted in fewer transportations.
- The large number of accidents
There is a strong correlation between the conditions of a road network and the accidents that occur. In fact, an exponential increase in accidents is observed when repair works are needed. Those accidents are mainly associated with road failures such as potholes and sinkholes.
According to reports, the funding granted for road preservation has decreased over the past years while the issues emerging are steadily increasing. Consequently, local authorities are highly restricted when it comes to planning for repair works.