Potholes, Potholes, Potholes…

I remember when the World cup was held in Mexico (1986) a TV commentator remarked his taxi, that was taking him to the TV studios, swerved from one side of the road to the other to avoid the potholes. In fact, the only people who drove straight were those who were drunk. The statistics for potholes are staggering:

  • Potholes cost British motorists an estimated £2.8 billion every year;
  • Over £30 million is paid out in compensation claims;
  • It is estimated that road maintenance is underfunded by £1 billion every year. If local authorities were given the funds required to maintain the roads it would take English local authorities 12 years to catch up on the current backlog;
  • RAC call-outs resulting from cars hitting potholes was up to 5,540 incidents in the first three months of this year;
  • February 2018 alone and in a 2016 survey, 39% of the AA’s members claimed potholes had damaged their cars;
  • The average amount allowed for each repair is £53. A Department for Transport spokesman couldn’t explain how the figure was broken down.

Potholes result from water trickling into cracks in the road surface and freezing. When the ice expands, it cracks the tarmac. The weather is usually blamed for the state of the roads. However, there are other reasons for the potholes: underinvestment, a public-spending squeeze, heavy traffic and utility companies. It is estimated that they were at least 1.5 million potholes on British roads last year.  Many commentators have highlighted that countries like Scandinavia or France don’t have a pothole problem as we do. They say potholes have been a legacy of 25 years of underspending by governments and local authorities. Although in fairness the UK roads do carry far more traffic than most other European countries.

Another aggravating factor regarding potholes is the utility companies. Transport for London calculates that one million holes are dug up by them in the capital’s every year. The utility companies are obliged to repair what they dig up to a standard but shoddy work and general repair to the roads to make the road surface susceptible to potholes.

Last year councils did fill in 968,195 potholes, but funding for roads by many is measured against a choice between a school or a nursing home and the votes are in people, not tarmac. However, following calls from local government for extra cash to repair potholes, a £250 million ‘pothole action fund’ was announced in last year’s Budget, and local councils will receive a total of £50 million each year for the next five years.

Below are some solutions suggested for potholes: –

  • Crack infill fill any cracks in the road, preventing water ingress;
  • Overbanding is applied as a layer of thermoplastic material that is laid over the top of cracks, joins, and damage, so water can’t penetrate the road surface;
  • Quick repair of potholes or other pavement disintegration helps control further deterioration and expensive repair of the pavement;
  • Spray-injection patching is a method of repairing small pavement defects with semi-permanent repairs, particularly during wet or cold weather.

* Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team and the Chair of the English Party

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7 Comments

  • John Barrett 30th May '18 - 9:13am

    Many city road surfaces are now effectively a series of patches left by different utility companies, with the original road surface often hard to find.

    One option might be to make the utility companies resurface the entire width of the road each time they dig up a section or a track to access their particular utility, rather than just resurfacing that strip.

    Then three things might happen.

    One, is that the utility companies might then work together, rather than separately, before digging up the roads, in order to share the cost of repairs. Secondly, we might face less disruption and fewer times our roads appear to have large holes in them with nobody working on anything. Finally, our road surfaces might improve, as a result of many small repairs being replaced by fewer large ones.

  • David Becket 30th May '18 - 9:49am

    They could start by ensuring that the edges of their repair were sealed

  • Utility companies should be obliged by law to work together and any utility company that starts digging up a road within say two years of another should face huge fines unless they can prove a genuine emergency. When ever a road is dug up more than one utility company’s services are exposed. They should be obliged at the very least to check that the services thus exposed are checked and if necessary repaired.
    Better still, we could adopt the practice of some European countries that services are NOT provided underneath roads but in an easily accessible conduit alongside them. OK, expensive initially, but think of the longterm savings.

  • I’m not sure what is being asked or proposed here, however, I think we need to understand better just what is happening in the UK compared to other countries – is it just they are quicker at repairing potholes or have a different approach to road maintenance and what are the cost differences (ie. do they spend more or less on road maintenance), obviously such figures need to be normalised to remove local price differences.

    The reason for my approach is that potholes are going to happen and thus our roads will need maintaining. Additionally, picking up on the aside “the only people who drove straight were those who were drunk”, potentially in the future the only vehicles that drive straight will be self-driving cars as the current state-of-the-art does not take into consideration road surface – along with several other things a human driver handles without really thinking about…

  • John Marriott 30th May '18 - 1:50pm

    @Mick Taylor
    Perhaps we should let Heineken take over road repairs. Remember that TV ad of a few years ago?

  • Graham Jeffs 30th May '18 - 6:02pm

    David Becket – what, seal the edges of the repairs? Don’t be silly, that might be construed as doing the job properly! Anyway its also much more fun to fill four potholes in a row and then leave a fifth one……..on the one hand we have (West Sussex) appalling work quality and on the other hand we have a flock of ‘ruling clique’ county councillors who fail to get a grip on the executive. Trouble is, people seem so fed up that they have become largely acquiescent.

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