The government came under further pressure this week over a £165 million funding cut to repair roads damaged by extreme weather conditions.
The Local Government Association said town halls, which are responsible for more than 95 per cent of the road network, fixed more than 2 million potholes last year - on average one every 33 seconds.
But the combination of the cut in road maintenance capital funding and the coldest December in 100 years has left local authorities bracing themselves for another huge recovery operation this year.
The latest public service satisfaction survey from the Institution of Civil Engineers revealed that more than half of the public rated roads and highways as the area that most needed investment.
The current survey, carried out amid heavy snow that brought transport networks to a standstill, documented a significant fall in public satisfaction, from 69 per cent in Q3 to 50 per cent in Q4. The proportion placing it as first or second priority for investment rose 6 percentage points.
ICE vice-president Geoff French said: “With a significant backlog of maintenance and repair works already existing, and council funding under even more pressure, there is a real risk that this situation will worsen as local authorities have no choice but to adopt short-term ‘quick fix’ approaches to remedy new surface defects over longer-term methods.”
The Highways Agency announced in December it would be replacing Managing Agent Contractor deals with Asset Support Contracts, after announcing a “fundamental” rethink of maintenance deals.
Under the MACs, contractors were judged on quality and cost on a 70:30 ratio. The weighting has now been changed to 50:50.
“We are not looking for bids excessive in quality - those that go over and above what is required,” Highways Agency divisional director for Area 2 Graham Bowskill said at the time. “We have rebalanced the weightings to make it clear where we want contractors to focus their efforts.”
The £80m Area 2 maintenance contract, responsible for more than 1,100 km of major roads across the South-west, is the first deal being tendered under the new criteria.
Chairman of the Local Government Association’s economy and transport board Councillor Peter Box said: “Ensuring our roads are kept up to a safe standard for motorists is a priority for councils and we will be working flat out to repair as many potholes as we possibly can.
“The coldest December in 100 years will have taken a massive toll on our roads and this damage is coming at a time when councils are being made to scale back their highways maintenance budgets.”