England facing traffic light repairs backlog of over £80m

A major survey has revealed that the traffic signals maintenance backlog in England could total more than £80m and cost authorities over £6m annually in fault repairs.

The figures come from the Department for Transport backed Transport Technology Forum (TTF), which carried out research into the signals sector as part of the application process for a traffic signals maintenance challenge fund.

The TTF surveyed 83 local authorities’ operations, amounting to just over 50% of the highway authorities in England.

Nearly half of the authorities questioned reported a signals maintenance backlog of more than a million pounds, with the other half reporting less than that.

This means the total backlog across the more than 150 English highway authorities is likely to be at least £80m and probably in the region of over £100m.

The impact of the backlog was found to dent annual budgets with nearly two out of five authorities reporting an average spend of £100,000 on fault repairs a year, with the remaining three-fifths recording a figure lower than this.

This suggests authorities in England are facing an annual bill for traffic signal maintenance of more than £6.1m at the most conservative estimate, with the total figure likely to be higher.

In a statement, the TTF said this demonstrates that ‘grants to upgrade equipment to be more reliable will be extremely cost-effective in the long run’.

The research also found that around a third of authorities have no or only a small number of SCOOT or MOVA adaptively controlled signalised junctions, which ‘means there is real potential to make an immediate difference to traffic and the safety of active travel by upgrading signalling’, the TTF said.

The other three fifths would largely be using fixed time or vehicle actuated signals. There are many signals set-ups that do not serve busy junctions with greatly variable traffic flows, such as those that give access out of a quiet side road, where fixed time might be appropriate.

However, Highways understands that there are also thousands of junctions that could benefit from being upgraded to adaptive systems, so sources suggest this is an obvious area where progress can be made.

Meanwhile, the vast majority – more than 80% - of authorities are yet to make the most of wireless or mobile advances in communications and remain on fixed connections.

More advanced mesh connections are easier to install and support more modern systems. The survey also found two thirds of authorities were not using high-speed connectivity. The TTF sees this as another potential ‘quick win’ for authorities.

‘The more we look into the real-world state of our traffic signals the more potential we are finding for relatively inexpensive but important improvements – including repairs, refurbishment or simply retuning systems - to deliver benefits for traffic flow generally and for promoting active travel,, said TTF chair Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation.

‘The Transport Technology Forum isn’t just about promoting cutting-edge technology; our interest is in making sure we get the best out of traffic technology in the round, and this Department for Transport funded project is a great example.’

The Traffic Signals Challenge Fund was a £15m funding round provided by the DfT and managed through the TTF with support from the Local Council Roads Innovation Group.

This additional local road funding was allocated in grants of either £250,000 or £500,000 to 39 authorities to repair and upgrade traffic signals in England.

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