Monday, May 30, 2011

Bureaucratic bungling at its best - or worst!

This lot are in England, but we have all too many of their kind right here, too. The article below is well worth reading, to illustrate how one bureaucratic cop-out can snowball or mushroom into a much larger problem. When many different bureaucrats, in many different departments, all neglect their responsibilities, the combined result can be catastrophic.

The Daily Mail reports:

Britain’s roads are notoriously bad at the best of times: a few years ago, car maker BMW had to build a potholed test track because it couldn’t find any German roads that simulated driving conditions in Britain.

But after two cold winters our roads have reached crisis point. According to a survey by KwikFit, over the past year motorists have spent £473 million [about US $779 million] repairing cars damaged by potholes.

Some holes are so big they can be spotted on Google Earth. One of the largest is in King’s Barton Street, Gloucester, which has been measured at 4ft wide, 200ft long and 4in deep.

Pothole-spotting has became a national sport, with local papers and radio stations running competitions to find Britain’s worst.

But it was no laughing matter when 29-year-old Captain Jonathan Allen encountered a 15ft by 3ft water-filled pothole while cycling home from his barracks along the A338 in Dorset last March.

He had just survived a tour of duty of Afghanistan, but did not survive a cycle ride along a British road: the hole made him swerve into the path of a lorry.

Councils have reacted to the growing anger about potholes with a typical piece of bureaucratic fiddling. In Lambeth, for example, a pothole has been ‘redefined’ as a hole more than 40mm [just over 1½ inches] deep - previously it was 25mm [about 1 inch].

In Gloucester a pothole must now be the size of a dinner plate to qualify for work. One wonders whether in the time it takes a pothole inspector to conduct a detailed survey of a hole, an asphalt gang could not have come along and filled it in.

Yet the problem isn’t that potholes are never repaired. In the year to March, councils in England claim to have filled in 1.91 million holes at a cost of £102 million [about US $168 million].

The scandal is that the maintenance regimes of virtually all British highways authorities involve waiting until roads become potholed and then eventually patching them up. In the long run, this is vastly more expensive than ensuring potholes do not form in the first place.

Roads do not get potholed if they are regularly resurfaced.

. . .

The Asphalt Industries Alliance (AIA) - which admittedly has a vested interest in road resurfacing, but also knows rather a lot about the subject - puts the ideal resurfacing interval for main roads at once every ten years and for secondary roads every 20 years. British roads are not even remotely resurfaced that often.

At the current rate of work, principal roads - motorways and A roads - have to wait 22 years to be resurfaced in urban locations, and 32 years in rural locations.

For non-principal roads (‘B’ roads and ‘C’ roads) the figures are 32 years and 78 years. For unclassified roads, the figures are 55 years and 142 years.

. . .

But it isn’t just the costs of the repairs themselves that make a patch-up strategy such poor value for money. Allowing roads to become potholed costs the taxpayer a fortune in compensation payments.

In 2008, the Local Government Association revealed councils were spending more on compensating road users who had suffered injury or had their vehicles damaged - a staggering £53 million [more than $87 million] - than on filling in potholes.

. . .

There is another reason for the appalling state of Britain’s roads. It wasn’t until this January that London introduced a permit scheme to control the free-for-all that allowed utility companies to dig up the streets wherever and whenever they fancied.

A proliferation of cable companies in the Nineties contributed to the decline in road conditions. There was nothing to stop one company digging a hole, filling it in - and then, a few days later, another company arriving to do the same.

It is a scandal that roadworks are not better coordinated. When a trench is dug by a utility company, it has been found to reduce the life of the road surface by 17 per cent.

. . .

Britain’s roads won’t get better until authorities develop a longer-term strategy of regular resurfacing and pre-emptive maintenance. It won’t just improve our roads; in the long term it will save vast amounts of money, too.

In the meantime, councils will carry on trying to fool us that potholes aren’t really potholes until they are the size of a dinner plate, before finally sending in their ‘rapid response teams’ to undertake overly expensive and overdue repairs which could have been avoided.

There's more at the link.

Typical! If something becomes a problem, bureaucrats simply redefine it so that - on paper, at least - it's no longer a problem! The fact that others have to live with it on a daily basis, and pay for the damage it causes, isn't their problem, is it?

I'd like to hear from readers in other countries and cities. Are your local authorities causing similar problems by failing to maintain your roads? Please let us know in Comments.

Bureaucrats! Grrr!



trailbee said...

This is a horror story. After this, I'm never going to complain again about those measly 1x1x.6 potholes I have to avoid on our roads. :)

On a Wing and a Whim said...


No! Complain! If you are silent and accept your potholes, the bureaucrats have no incentive to keep the roads from becoming worse! Silence, to bureaucrats, is consent to do nothing!

trailbee said...

Well, actually, you're wrong, there. I use a busy country road, which dead-ends into a State Highway. Since I have moved up here fifteen years ago, we have had so many fatal accidents and fender benders at this corner, and have complained and requested, until we are worn out. This is the second year we've been tricked by the Survey Crew into thinking they're actually going to do something - you know, those little markers, etc.
So, either way, yapping or napping, the final word goes to the County/State/Feds. We shall see. But, I feel better. Thanks. :)

Sendarius said...

Here in Western Australia the roads are divided into "major" roads - managed by the state government, and "minor" roads - managed by local government.

When the state government out-sourced road maintenance and dis-banded their road repair crews, the road network was divided into regions, and tenders were called for from private companies to provide ten years of maintenance.

In one region, the year after the contracts were let, the amount of re-surfacing performed went down from 375,000 square metres to 184.

NOT 184 THOUSAND - 184 square metres - while the costs went UP.

At the end of the ten years, no companies were prepared to bid on the next ten year contracts because the roads had deteriorated so much.