SPECIAL REPORT: Lancashire cranks up the heat in fight against the county's pothole epidemic
Prevention is as important as the cure.
That is the mind-set behind the latest attempt to get to grips of Lancashire’s endemic pothole problem that has become a whole lot worse over the wet and cold winter months.
On Wednesday, (March 28), this reporter got the chance to see for itself the new filling method coming to the county – known as spray injection patching – in Woodplumpton Lane, Broughton.
The technique – which involves clearing and drying out potholes before filling – can fix up to 60 potholes a day, so says Lancashire County Council, who have invested in six of these patching machines to tackle the current 2,700-plus reported potholes in Lancashire.
“When we send the machines out they are on a programmed route which we have identified through our conditioned survey on the state of our road network,” said Ridwan Musa, Highways Manager West at the county council.
“These guys know the locations they need to go through. But what we ask them to do is not only pick up those that meet our investigatory levels but also, if they see any other defects that potentially may reach the same level, to pick them up at the same time and stop the problem before it starts.”
Potholes on the 400m section of Woodplumpton Road could be repaired in 20 minutes or so if left uninterrupted, according to the crew operating the patching machine.
And county council officials state that the new technology aims to tackle potholes that fall short of meeting official depth requirements for refilling – something which they hope will reduce the burden on council demand and help fix as many as possible.
Leading member for highways and transport at the county council, Coun Andrew Snowden, said: “It frees up all of our direct labour to be on the urban roads and more resources to be on them because these guys are going around the rural network doing this.”
Earlier this week, central government announced a Â£2.4m funding boost to tackle Lancashire’s funding boost – something Coun Snowden has described as “brilliant news” – putting the county’s overall funding to tackle potholes for the next financial year at Â£12.4m.
Coun Snowden said: “We’ve had an under investment in highways in Lancashire for a few years. We won control [of the county council] last May and put the money back in.
“The main resurfacing programme will be starting this year. You will start to see a lot more roads getting completely resurfaced [but] over the winter a number of potholes have appeared more than normal and we will be getting – through innovative and new techniques like this – getting back on top of it and making the roads better for car users, cyclists and residents across the county.”
And the pothole filler contractors come with a two year guarantee on their road filling exploits, meaning that if the filled-in potholes deteroriate in that time period they will be repaired at no extra cost to Lancashire taxpayers.
“If the filling comes out in that time they will come back and repair it themselves,” said Coun Snowden.
What is spray injection patching?
Spray injection patching is the technique Lancashire County Council is hoping will help fix the county’s pothole epidemic, with company Jetpatcher brought in to carry out the work.
The process is made up of three steps:
1) Compressed air is blasted into the hole to remove all dust, debris and water;
2) A cold bitumen emulsion is applied which helps to waterproof the repair and make a better bond between the existing road and the material being used for the repair;
3) A mix is then fired into the hole at a high speed, followed by another coating of bitumen emulsion to seal the repair and prevent water from getting in the hole.
The cost of weather woes
Lancashire was hit by harsh weather over the last six months, leading to a lot of rainfall, snow, and cold conditions that have taken their toll on the county’s roads.
Lancashire County Coun Andrew Snowden said: “It’s been a really, really bad winter for roads with a continual flicking between cold and rain going on way into the end of March and having started in October.
“Part of the problem is being the fourth largest council in the country, with thousands of roads, so we are going to have more potholes, but we have a particular plan to deal with this with extra money and innovative technology to speed up the process of doing this.”
The county council’s Highways Manager West, Ridwan Musa, said that “we need to go further back” than just the last half year.
“We didn’t have the best summer,” explained Mr Musa, “it was very wet which lasted until late November and then we ended up with a prolonged cold spell – wet and cold do not mix and that makes our roads deteriorate a lot faster than we hope.
“That’s caused a massive challenge around new potholes forming and existing ones getting bigger.
“But we are confident going forward; this is a tried and tested method and used up and down the country and what we have got is a quick process with a two year guarantee with each defect.”