Potholes are in the news at the moment (see for example the link below).  One of the themes that I shall cover in the essays (letter) to my children will be the ‘crisis of capital’ that comes with the end of mankind’s era of industrial-age rates of economic growth.  Economic stagnation or, worse, economic contraction (we’re kind of there now) means that the economy cannot and will not generate surplus capital; certainly not in the quantities needed to sustain our, er, unsustainable ‘developed world’ way of life.

It’s worth noting, therefore, that as capital becomes ever more scarce over the coming years, the UK’s local government authorities estimate that it would cost £12.93 billion to clear the entire road maintenance backlog.  This month’s Which? magazine carries a report entitled ‘The Hole Truth’ in which they investigate the true nature and scale of the pothole problem.

One of the characteristics of ‘The Long Descent’ (see John Michael Greer’s eponymous book) will be a steady decline in the availability and quality of public services as we proceed towards a low/no growth future – whence capital scarcity will translate in to reducing levels of activity and investment.

So, we need to get used to potholes.  Indeed, if you bear in mind the £12.93 billion spending requirement that I mentioned above and then analyse the figures in the linked article below you”ll be able to calculate for yourself that the roads situation will in fact be getting worse over the coming 5 years (and thereafter, I’ll wager).

And goodness knows … my guess is that it won’t be too long before it dawns on somebody that – at a cool £32 billion (multiplied between two- and four-fold if it ever gets going) – High Speed 2 is an unaffordable train set (as is creating a dual-carriageway all the way up the A9 from Perth to Inverness, Mr Salmond).

As ever, the politicos won’t be sharing this arithmetic with us.  Everything’s gonna be fine, just fine.


  1. Driver_ian · ·

    Local Government Highways Depts will continue to reduce capital spend and maintenance. B Roads are currently degrading here in West Wales despited maintenance efforts. Gritting of roads has reduced and black ice accidents are increasing. This is all a cost benefit in favour of the Council allocating and targeting resources. What I am seeing is a shrinking of local services, money is allocated and spent by local government but measuable outputs decrease. So in essence there is an increasing transfer of risk from the service provider to the service user… So my council didn’t grit a B road, that they normally do, ‘Black Ice’ formed in road ruts from lack of surface maintenance, surface snow melt and poor road camber led to me losing control, despite very careful driving…Therefore compounding errors lead to a failure on my part and hence a transfer of risk..A similar theme for a coming societal collapse…We can all see measurable patterns and metrics emerge for future infrastructure failures and pot holes are a very good one!


    1. moraymint · ·

      Thanks ian and, yes, there is a growing number of leading indicators of challenges ahead. I shall be dealing with these over the coming year. Safe driving!


  2. PrestonPark · ·

    Perhaps worth noting that much initial ‘decay’ in road surfaces is caused by utility (and other) companies not making good after cutting road surfaces. Initial road construction & repair by Highways & local agencies is usually quite good & left unmolested can last well & be systematically maintained when required using similar techniques & materials to the original construction. The problem comes with the inadequate reconstitution after utility companies ‘make good’ – often fulfilling only the form & not the function. That is, the road surface ‘looks okay’ & supine and/or lazy local highways depts. sign off reconstitution on that basis.
    When different materials are used for reconstitution, rates of expansion/contraction, levels of shift/impact absorption/compaction can all be different – the result is like having large discontinuities in a solid – forces are not absorbed or transmitted equally & disintegration & fracture occur. Once that happens water ingress (together with the destructive effects of freezing & thawing ice) complete the job. Result: breaking surfaces, pot-holes & subsidence.

    Just check the next pipe or cable trench you see being laid, then check when the utility company has finished. Is there an initial ‘bump’ (where compaction has been lax)? after a while that ‘bump’ will recess (giving that typical double-bump outline). Because that bump/recess is hid harder by passing traffic (think equal & opposite reaction to vehicle/weight – no free lunch!) that surface weakens first & is damaged first – leading to the result as above.
    Another check: If the road is potholed & bumpy, look for nearby/adjacent (recent) road works from aforesaid utility companies – the correlation is startling.


  3. John Fass Morton · ·

    My understanding is that in Michigan, various rural jurisdictions are not repaving rural roads but rather turning them into gravel roads. Same in New Hampshire and probably other states. As for Detroit, sections of the city are not bothering to provide street lighting anymore. I could go on.


    1. moraymint · ·

      Thanks for that insight John; I’m keen to learn about what’s happening worldwide in this context. That said, James Kunstler is never short of comment on America’s crumbling infrastructure …

      Stay in touch …


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