Asset Management

What Is Highways Asset Management?

In the context of the highway – where the asset is the highway itself – the aim is to provide a structured approach to road maintenance to enable highway authorities to operate, maintain and restore their ‘highway assets’ to meet key performance requirements.

Looking after the highway network is a national priority given its fundamental role in the economy.  To fulfil this potential, it needs to be adequately maintained.

Highway authorities in England are required by the Department for Transport (DfT) to demonstrate they are making the best use of highway assets through Asset Management Plans.

A Transport Asset Management Plan (TAMP) is a tool that allows detailed information on the assets held by the authority to be provided at all corporate levels.
This would then enable the value for money of local highway maintenance to be measured more effectively against other local transport spending, and eventually assist in crucial strategy and planning decisions.

Why consider the asset management approach?

The asset management approach looks at all transport issues collectively with a long-term view, which allows highway authorities to consider what the alternative options are, set performance targets and assess the results. In this way, they can support their funding requests with hard facts.
This allows further improvement of the service to be targeted and the timing of maintenance to be planned such that further deterioration is minimised.

What is involved in asset management?

Asset management is a strategic tool that uses information to look at the whole road network rather than individual schemes. It is about collecting physical inventory and managing current conditions based on strategic goals and sound investments.
There are three main processes to an asset management exercise:
1. Assess the current condition of the asset.
2. Establish what level of service to achieve from each road. This will depend on road type and its level of use.
3. Devise an optimised plan to achieve objectives and maximise the asset value, using the most cost-effective method possible.
In asset management, there is a shift in thinking to a more strategic approach that targets the long-term condition of the overall network. This entails looking at different investment strategies in order to maintain the overall network asset in good condition.
In this way, it is necessary to anticipate the future condition of the asset and to have an investment plan that delivers the forecasted condition reflecting the agreed standards.

How much is the asset worth?

Any investment on an item of value, like a road asset, demands engineers to know precisely how valuable the asset is before any financial commitment is made.
As there are different ways of assessing how much a road asset is worth, it is important to assess the network value consistently.
Authorities must determine how much it would cost to replace the current asset, and as part of the highway valuation, the replacement cost of other features, such as bridges and street lighting, must also be obtained and included. An important area is to know how much the authority has spent historically on the asset through the years, to keep the condition steady.

Effects of Climate Change?

Managing public highways assets to meet the needs of an uncertain future in terms of climate risks as:

  • severe weather events or
  • the norm changes with which our networks have to cope

is difficult to visualise (e.g. 4oC rise by 2100).  What will nature provide us in terms of average temperatures, rainfall, wind levels, and UV radiation, as our climate and resultant weather changes?
Several national bodies are tracking and predicting weather and climate using science and enormous computing power and this has output into a number of predictive weather scenarios that are available to Local Authorities.

The question is what are the risks to all the stakeholders?  Stakeholders and performance criteria vary greatly depending on the type of network.  (ie community roads versus strategic highway network) Nevertheless, both types of highway networks need to keep functioning in changing conditions to ensure a competitive and robust local and national UK economy.

The section on Climate Change Adaptation provides a knowledge centre and guidance for the management of risks associated with Climate Change, current and future, in terms of Highways networks and how to reduce cost exposure to the taxpayer.

What are service levels?

Service levels are the standards at which the asset should be maintained to satisfy the demands of the various stakeholders and customers. They can be grouped as legal requirements, stakeholder expectations, authority’s own objectives or best practice guidelines.

Examples are:
• Minimum/core levels of service = reactive maintenance, safety inspections that respond to reporting defects within 24 hours.
• Fair service levels = routine maintenance and some planned works that reduce the dependence on reactive maintenance.
• Good service levels = investments in structural maintenance that leads to improvements in conditions. This is a proactive process that improves serviceability and reduces road deterioration.
• Excellent service levels = eliminating any backlog in maintenance.

Defining these levels creates some form of accountability of the asset operator or maintainer (such as the highway authority) in the delivery of certain measurable goals.
It is important for each asset management plan to distinguish between different service levels and to spell out what levels of service each highway authority wishes to attain.

This allows improvement plans to be set in place and a target date to be proposed if the authority wishes to target the excellent level. This also provides some degree of transparency to the public in the services an authority provides to users.

Future maintenance programme

The idea of life cycle planning has been introduced to the highways asset management process to help direct maintenance. Life cycle plans are designed to show what activities are necessary during different stages of an asset’s life.

Maintenance activities are broken down to three strands: routine maintenance, planned maintenance and improvement activities.

In a collective sense, life cycle planning is designed to show the importance of interaction between these various maintenance strands. Any investment in routine maintenance can affect the future renewal required, for example. Also, the original construction of the road can affect future maintenance requirements.

Therefore, the financial implications of not undertaking routine maintenance can affect the requirements for the planned maintenance and also the improvement activities for a piece of road during the life cycle.

Improvement actions

As part of an active asset management process, each asset operator needs to review their current business processes or working cultures to identify improvement actions.
The following is a list of suggested improvement activities a highway authority may consider to move towards an active asset management process for roads.
1. Check that a full inventory of the asset has been undertaken and that condition data is complete.
2. Review service levels and ensure stakeholders are consulted. Agree within the authority on the level of service to be delivered for the agreed period (say next five years) and develop local/national performance indicators to assess outcome.
3. Review forward works programme following the asset management principle against the worst-first treatment.
4. Review budget needs to deliver the forward programme.
5. Use historic funding levels to determine if there is a maintenance backlog.
6. Review the business practice and perhaps alter maintenance strategies to see if some short-term solutions may alleviate some of the backlog. Beyond safety concerns, this will be a step in getting the balance between what maintenance works are carried out that satisfies the performance of the asset in the long-term.

Which roads to maintain first?

This is a tricky area but goes right to the heart of highways asset management.
Maintenance management systems allow the highway authority to use the condition information to show which roads are in need of maintenance, when to do the treatments and by how much. Asset management allows the entire network needs and priorities to be considered and then cascaded down to the affected areas.

If it is found that by repeated short life repairs, a maximum useful life can be gained from a road. The asset management approach allows it to continue to a point where the deteriorated asset is no longer maintainable and needs reconstruction.

What is backlog?

Most highway authorities who produce asset management plans refer to maintenance backlog figures, although these figures are often extremely difficult to calculate.
It may be easier to explain backlog in terms of service level that an authority provides.

The difference in the cost of providing the existing service level and that for a proposed service level is the backlog of maintenance. It could also be defined in terms of the perceived asset life. If a piece of road that has a design life of 40 years goes beyond its service life and is not dealt with in the anticipated budget year, then the renewal cost will be the backlog.

Know your network well

A key to asset management success is to know the network well and to weigh up all alternatives.

It is important to be aware of the efficiency in managing and operating the network and what options will be effective. This can be different on various parts of a network.
This is where condition data is critical. Once it is established what the expectations are from a piece of road, condition data can help to find out if the current maintenance practice is going to deliver the performance expected during its planned life cycle.