Talking up timely treatments

Publication of the Government’s Potholes Review has put surface treatments in the spotlight

Publication of Government’s ‘Potholes Review’ has been warmly welcomed by the Road Surface Treatments Association. It says that the document should encourage local authorities to move away from reactive maintenance strategies towards preventing highway defects from occurring in the first place.

“Government’s new Potholes Review recognises the enormous scope available to highway authorities to adopt preventative approaches to maintenance,” says RSTA chief executive Howard Robinson. “The Review also highlights that one of the principal causes of pothole formation is the ingress of water into a road and the effects of subsequent freeze thaw action. Authorities who invest in sealing the road surface through a range of specialist treatments such as surface dressing will help to protect their highway assets from damage.”

One of a series of case studies included in the Potholes Review, published in April, focuses on the work of Lancashire County Council, which uses preventative maintenance to arrest the formation of potholes. The council makes good use of surface dressing to close up minor cracks in the carriageway and seal the road to stop water from penetrating through to lower layers. According to the Review roads surface dressed in Lancashire over the last five to seven years “have been virtually pothole free in the last few years”.

“Lancashire takes a very proactive view when it comes to preventing pothole formation and they should be commended,” adds Dr Robinson. “But local authorities who concentrate their efforts on just filling potholes as and when they appear will be filling them forever. Those who have not invested in surface dressing to seal their roads are likely to be paying the price.”

Surface treatments can deliver a cost effective means of sealing the carriageway

Fifteen years ago there was far more surface dressing carried out across the UK than there is today. One of the reasons for the technique’s recent decline has been the advent of thin surfacings, says Howard. “Thin surfacings came in and took over from surface dressing in a big way. Many local authorities thought they would get better value from these new materials, but this has not always proven to be the case. We are now seeing the surface dressing market beginning to grow again, all be it slowly.”

Dr Robinson stresses that highway authorities should focus their attention on sealing local roads using surface dressing techniques, as minor roads tend to be less resilient to winter damage than major routes. He recognises that many councils have less money to spend on highways renewal than in previous years. But he adds: “Local authorities have a statutory duty to keep their roads safe.

“In a climate of austerity they can achieve the best bang for their buck by spending a couple of pounds per square metre on surface treatments rather than waiting for a highway to fail, planing out the carriageway and laying asphalt. Prevention is certainly better than cure and it is a false economy to allow roads to fail. But on the plus side I am encouraged that more local authorities are beginning to heed that message and return to specifying surface treatments.”

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