The world of transport infrastructure has inevitably often seen discussions and disputes arise on the subject of boundaries and responsibilities. It is key to good asset management to understand the interfaces between one highways authority and other parties, and developing such understanding helps to ensure engineering responsibility is correctly assigned. 

By contrast, in situations where interfaces are not well-defined, otherwise avoidable risks can occur, together with extended negotiations, extra costs, and possible ‘gaps’ in maintenance responsibilities. 

Of National Highways’ more than 23,000 structural assets, almost 9,000 are bridges. This means that various boundaries exist across a range of different types of structures. There can often be a lack of clarity, for instance, as to who owns retaining walls, with the situation at overbridges and under bridges also sometimes being less than clear. 

How has this potentially invaluable guidance come about? 

As reported by the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT), work has recently been carried out by National Highways alongside the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) National Bridges Group (NBG), under the Department for Transport (DfT)’s auspices. 

The aim of this work has been to put together guidance that sets out a framework for asset management decisions at structural boundaries. 

The resultant guidance document is entitled Definition of Asset Management Responsibilities: Bridges and Structures, and outlines typical issues and scenarios, in addition to providing clear recommendations for operational actions. The document also differentiates between existing structures and new ones. 

What principles have been adopted for this guidance? 

Although the new guidance document – which is available to view on the CIHT website – is not a code of practice or a standard, and cannot be counted on to resolve every possible boundary issue, it does nonetheless provide an important framework for agreement. 

To this end, it works on the basis of certain crucial principles – including that of ensuring safety, establishing physical demarcation locations, setting technical responsibility, and assigning financial accountability. The guidance document also shows that work has been done to achieve consistency of approach between National Highways and the ADEPT NBG. 

The framework for agreement that has been set out by the guidance brings financial implications for all parties, and makes clear the importance of respecting any prior written agreements. 

Detailed appendices are provided with the guidance, setting out scenarios to explain what the guidance would mean in practice with regard to both new and existing structures. There is a particular emphasis on outlining the responsibilities at overbridges. 

A milestone development for the boundaries of transport infrastructure 

With this new document being in the joint ownership of DfT, the UK Roads Leadership Group (UKRLG), ADEPT NBG and National Highways, it certainly represents a major step forward on this persistent and often difficult issue. 

The guidance document should help to ensure safety factors are given the paramount emphasis that they should be given, at the same time as outlining a vital framework for asset management practices for structures. 

Do you have concerns or queries in relation to your next transport infrastructure project? If so, please do not hesitate to make Transport Planning Associates (TPA) your chosen consultancy, contacting us at our office nearest to you.