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Highway assets Expertise

by Mr Robert A Luck
Chartered Civil Engineer
(More about Mr Luck)

Highway authorities: duties and aims

Highway authorities have a duty to maintain, operate and improve their highway assets to deliver a safe, serviceable and sustainable network. At the same time they are under increasing pressure from a mature network with a backlog of required maintenance and inadequate budgets to meet the need. Highway asset management is about identifying the optimal allocation of resources for fulfilling these duties and meeting the needs of current and future highway users. It should provide improved transparency in decision making, and defined levels of service which take into account the legislative requirements that apply to highway management.

Asset management and the guidelines it encompasses should also inform other documents, such as maintenance plans (including winter maintenance) and traffic management and road safety strategies. For highway authorities it is, therefore, key in minimising their liability to criminal or civil action in the event of damage, loss or injury to a party.

Liabilities of the authorities

Highway liability claims are a major element in national and local government’s third-party public liability claims. They range from damage to clothing or vehicles through slight personal injury to serious injury and fatalities. An authority could become liable as a result of a number of different factors, including:

  • inadequate frequencies of inspection
  • inappropriate intervention levels and
  • failure to act in the light of knowledge of problems.

Assessing priorities and risks

To be able to deliver asset management, a highway authority must have an inventory of all the assets for which it is responsible. A robust asset valuation procedure will provide their true value and is a fundamental component to ensuring the asset base is preserved and replenished in a sustainable manner.

The authority must then decide on, and set out, the levels of service it will deliver, taking into account its budgetary restraints. It will be necessary to identify the most cost-effective means of providing for, and managing, the demands placed on its assets by considering their different lifecycles. The authority will also need to take into account the probability of a risk occurring and the impact of that risk should it occur, including the implications of failure or loss of use.

The levels of service set must not fall short of an authority’s statutory obligations and should follow guidance as to best practice. In particular, for local highway authorities who manage hierarchical systems of routes and locations reflecting use and importance, service levels should also be appropriate to the circumstances. Any decision to deliver below what is considered best practice should be supported by evidence that includes a balancing of cost and risk.

Assessing deterioration and lifecycles

A highway authority will need to monitor the condition of its assets over time to ensure they do not fall below the levels of service that have been set. This should be done through a systematic and consistent regime of inspections and surveys carried out by suitably trained or qualified individuals. The inspections can be divided into three categories.

1. Identify defects that could prevent the safe passage of users of the network.

2. Consider factors that affect the network’s serviceability.

3. Measure at what stage assets are in their lifecycle, and hence their residual life.

Lifecycle planning will determine the nature of the intervention when an appropriate service level requires an identified problem to be rectified. Reactive maintenance keeps the asset in a safe condition, while routine maintenance maintains its serviceability.

Renewal and upgrade

Ultimately it will be necessary to renew or replace a whole asset or elements of it. Upgrades to the whole of an asset, or parts of it, may take place to meet future demand or to fulfil the duties on authorities with regards to road safety.

When a highway authority is carrying out an asset upgrade it should ensure it is safe, properly designed and does not trap users into danger. There are published design standards and guidance, but these should be not applied without giving proper consideration to the local circumstances. This is especially the case for local highway authorities as the majority of documents regarding design are written for trunk roads and motorways and may not be suitable for less-trafficked and lower classes of road.

Information exchange

The recording of all information should be done in a manner that facilitates analysis and allows it to be combined with other relevant data, such as traffic flows and collision records. It should also be produced in a format that enables effective communication of data between highway departments and stakeholders, such as the emergency services. In doing so, information and knowledge about the network, and trends in its condition, characteristics and use, can be combined to provide the holistic view required for asset management and to enable risks to be identified, assessed and appropriately managed. It also allows highway authorities to report on their performance to others, to audit their processes, to monitor the performance of the assets and to enable improvements in service delivery to be realised.

Types of case

  • Negligence of highway authorities in relation to any of the above described processes and procedures
  • Road traffic collision, pedestrian injury, or damage caused by poor highway maintenance
  • Road traffic collision caused by poor traffic management in roadworks
  • Road traffic collision due to poor surface friction
  • Serious injury or fatality resulting from a vehicle aquaplaning
  • Road traffic collision caused by inadequate winter maintenance
  • Defect in design or works which leads to a road user being entrapped into danger


There are no formal qualifications necessary for an expert in highways to possess, although membership of an appropriate Institute or Institution may be seen as beneficial. For example:

  • Institution of Highways and Transportation
  • Institution of Civil Engineers
  • Institute of Highway Incorporated Engineers


The right expert should have had experience in the implementation of highway asset management at a senior managerial level. He should also have a good knowledge of the wide range of elements involved, including the technical background, and have had a key role in policy writing and decision-making.

by Mr Robert A Luck
Chartered Civil Engineer
(More about Mr Luck)


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