Predictions of the worse winter for possibly ten years is bad news for those highway authorities who have failed to carry out the necessary maintenance of their road networks.
The Met Office’s forecast for November to January predicts ‘the risk of colder than normal conditions remains a significant possibility’. This is due to the La Nina phenomenon which was behind the big freeze of November 2010 which saw low temperatures of -13C and snowfalls of 2ft in places during the coldest winter on record for Britain. Weather Action predicts that the second half of November will see temperatures plummet to -10C. Meanwhile, Labrokes is offering 4-1 on the coldest November on record with 4/6 on snowfall before the end of the month.
“An early cold start of winter will have a detrimental impact upon our roads and could result in a record number of potholes, particularly where local authority highway departments have not carried out proper road maintenance programmes”, warned Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).
Potholes are caused by water or snow freezing in cracks in the road surface. The expansion of ice results in damage and breaking up of the road surface which is made worse by repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Budget constraints mean that many highway authorities are unable to carry out planned, comprehensive maintenance and are forced to adopt an expensive patch-and-mend approach.
The significant consequence of not carrying out adequate maintenance is demonstrated by the 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey. Produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) the survey reports that the cost to restore the local road network to a satisfactory condition is over £12 billion and that it would take 13 years to address the backlog of repairs in England and 9 years in Wales.
“The lack of investment in planned maintenance means that in many parts of the country the local road network is not in a fit state to face the impact of a severe extended winter,” pointed out Robinson. “Despite significant budget cuts local authorities are fixing 1.75 million potholes every year. However, only with adequate funding from central government can local authorities undertake the necessary investment in local road long-term maintenance.