Transport for London bosses have warned they could be forced to introduce “major” traffic restrictions on some key routes, including the Rotherhithe Tunnel and Vauxhall Bridge, as a result of cuts to their road maintenance budgets.
The cuts stem from the Government’s decision to end TfL’s £700m operating grant which, combined with lower than expected fares income and the fares freeze introduced by Mayor Sadiq Khan, has left it facing a potential £1bn funding gap.
Managers have committed to achieving an operating surplus by the 2021/22 financial year, but to do so are having to slash spending across the organisation, including “significantly” reducing spending on roads managed by both it and local boroughs.
Between the 2017/18 and 2019/20 financial years the agency had originally planned to spend a total of £548m on surface assets, a category which includes roads, bridges, bus stations and river piers.
However this is now set to fall to £303m over the same period, with budgeted spending in 2018/19 falling from an originally projected £173m to £70m and in 2019/20 from £189m to just £64m.
Board members have been told that historic spending levels have ensured the asset base is in a sufficiently good condition that “a two year reduction in proactive renewals can be managed safely.”
However managers caution that reduced spending and work levels will still mean “impacts on customer satisfaction” as well as “an increased risk of asset restrictions and closures to maintain safe network operation.”
A paper being presented to the board’s Programmes and Investment Committee next week warns that “restrictions may be necessary on some major assets within the next five years due to the deferral of works; these include Vauxhall Bridge, the Westway and Rotherhithe Tunnel.”
It goes on to warn that “continuation of the [budget] reduction beyond 2019/20 is very likely to result in greater impacts and maintaining network safety will require asset restrictions and closures, resulting in significant network disruption.”
Of the £70m earmarked for the coming year, just £8m will be spent on reactive maintenance of local roads because almost £50m is already earmarked for various major schemes.
The following year TfL plans to ring-fence a further £12m for measures such as the replacement and refurbishment of bus shelters and bus stations which it says will “protect bus revenue,” once again reducing the amount available for local road works to a maximum of £20m.
The paper is clear that managers’ preferred option of pursuing already contracted projects and spending the minimum on road maintenance “will increase the risk of asset restrictions and closures” as well as increasing future costs.
However it advises that alternative options are unviable because they either risk having to pay to get out of already signed contracts or would leave TfL with no spare cash “to deal with issues that arise in-year”.