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Highway maintenance – A design perspective

Highways By Michael Florance, Associate Engineer – 01 February 2023

Aerial view of Newcastle business park with buildings, carpark and road layout shown


Michael in a light green open collar shirt smiling in front of a living wall

Michael Florance

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Reflecting on the blog I wrote in 2022 on How a lawn mower inspired my design perspective, I am moved again to reflect on highway maintenance as I see it in practice. The challenges I see with local environments are often deeply rooted in the finished product or (and not always high on the agenda from a purely highways perspective) aesthetics. No one wants to see exposed concrete foundations or slabs, or even a half-grass-half-concrete lay-by. But other things, like lighting columns, cabinets, even grit bins, outside of clear footway/cycleway, put in verge (or other adoptable spaces) for now and future needs. There’s a new 5G mast going up every day. Verges that “do nothing” cost money. They cost money to implement and they cost money to maintain. I know of some local authorities who have an outright ban on new verges.

We also need people to look after and maintain these assets – like a fully integrated maintenance area on a roundabout central island, perhaps surrounded by a wildflower mix for landscaping. This, when not being delivered directly for a highway authority, can be a lot trickier to implement. Some good practice designed in early, co-ordinated and explained to the client, development management, overseeing organisation and landscape architects can hugely benefit a scheme – and make adoption easier. This takes vehicles off the carriageway and out of harm’s way, and really isn’t hard to do – unlike this picture, which inspired these blogs in the first place.

The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) has some good examples within CD 169 (or TD 69/07 for those who can remember that), but that relates to major highways. Go along any part of the Strategic Road Network (SRN) and you’ll usually see spaces made fairly well for maintenance activities. Whether it’s a simple verge, hardstanding or steps and handrails – something, more often than not, is provided. Look at local highway environments, however, and you’ll struggle to find so much as a 1m verge to walk eerily close to large and fast-moving traffic in places.

We all want schemes to be proud of, with projects that look the part. But safety is paramount. We have a duty of care to design for maintenance. We can't put people at risk by not providing safe places for them to undertake maintenance. The Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015 require us to consider whole life cycle operations. We need to eliminate, reduce or control foreseeable risks that may arise during maintenance. It needs to be designed and allowed for early optioneering, then optioneer how maintenance activities will work, too. Always remember that lawn mower.