Potholes and Highways Maintenance, Winter 22/23

These are not my words this is directly taken from a ‘member briefing’ where an officer at the County Council who is responsible for this area (Highways Maintenance) provides an explanation and answers Councillors’ questions. There is a lot of useful information here and answers to questions I regularly hear.

Member Briefing on Winter Highways maintenance:

Purpose: To inform members of the current situation regarding potholes and actions being taken across Highways Maintenance to keep road users safe and provide information to help councillors when responding to local enquires.

During the winter season we often see an increased level of interest and concern regarding potholes from both the public and the media. Winter is a time when we see more road defects and potholes form. This is due to the wet and freezing weather causing those worn areas of road and pavement surfaces to deteriorate more rapidly and break up to form defects (potholes). The formation of potholes is accelerated by the action of water lying in the broken surface being forced into the road surface which basically pushes the road apart.

The increase in potholes at this time of year is something seen every year across the UK. The Highways Maintenance teams increase the numbers of gangs dealing with potholes to make sure we do all we can to keep road users safe. We currently have 8 teams focused on fixing potholes around the County and the City. We are also using two of our Dragon patchers in the rural areas. In recent months we have been recording up to 5000 defects a weekend and fixing around 1000 defects in any given week. This is higher than in the summer months where we will see a steady weekly record of around 3000 potholes when we would have 4 or 5 teams.

The situation we are seeing in Cambridgeshire is shared across the whole of the UK with many authorities including our neighbours facing a similar situation on their roads. Like us, many are experiencing a significant increase in the number of potholes recorded and fixed over this winter.

In recent years we have seen the benefits of our asset management approach with the total number of potholes reducing from 60,000 in 2021 to 45,000 in 2022. Indications are that despite the current situation that we will see a continued reduction this year.

Soil Affected Roads, such as those across the Fens, are subject to a different form of road deterioration. In these areas the whole road is moving, cracking and deforming due to the expansion and contraction of the soils and embankments they sit on. We are tackling these from two perspectives. Firstly, and as our priority, we are keeping them safe to use through local repairs and traffic safety measures such as speed limits. Secondly, we are assessing the technical and financial requirements to manage these roads into the future, recognising the specific needs across this part
of the network.

How and Why we fix Potholes

As the Highway Authority we have a duty to keep road users safe by maintaining the surfaces of roads and footways. Our priority when investigating and prioritising what we fix and where is driven by safety. Where the public report a pothole it may be that whilst annoying and concerning it might not be a safety danger when considered against our defect criteria. We all know that potholes don’t go away and will get worse over time but to make sure we deal with the ones that are a danger quickly we won’t be able to fix everything immediately.

Our prioritisation criteria are applied whenever we go and inspect a reported pothole or one found through our regular cyclic safety inspections which are carried out on all roads throughout the year. In general terms if a pothole is large and deep we will fix it within 5 days. If it is smaller and therefore generally less of a hazard, then we will fix it within 21 days. Anything less than that is recorded and then programmed for repair in a planned programme.

We are generally good at meeting our repair times with an average of 3 days and 17 days. In winter it can take longer due to the numbers, but we stay within our timescales. Our Highways Maintenance Team keep track of the potholes being reported and plan the best routes and resources to carry out repairs efficiently and effectively.

We always aim to repair potholes with a permanent fix first time. In the winter this can be difficult due to the weather and the increased demand. We will at this time of year repair potholes temporarily to keep people safe and to keep up with the numbers we need to fix. We make sure we go back to these when the weather is better and put in a permanent repair. Sometimes a repair can fail fairly quickly which can be for a range of reasons. As soon as we know a repair has failed we go back again to provide a new repair to make sure we keep people safe by removing the immediate safety hazard. At this time of year we have to do more temporary repairs, mainly, due to the weather conditions. This is to make sure people are safe from the hazard until we can repair the pothole permanently. This can appear inefficient, but the focus is on keeping the road network safe until the permanent repair can be delivered.

We are getting round to all that we can as fast as we can but it is challenging. We will always fix the defects and work using our priority criteria to ensure safety across the whole network. This can mean we take longer to get to some defects evaluated as being less hazardous.

The best way for the public to report potholes is through our Report It Tool

Briefing update. Questions and Responses from Councillors 6/2/23
nb Milestone are the highways contractor responsible for potholes the Council manages through a contract.

How many potholes are we repairing that were repaired before but of inferior

We have very few that are a direct failure of the repair and the reason they fail can fall into two general brackets.

  • The repair didn’t work due to the state of the road itself and weather. Our current asset management system and associated process doesn’t support us in accurately tracking these.
  • The repair was of a poor standard to start with. This we do track accurately. Our performance indicators with Milestone are showing that 98% of repairs are meeting quality standards. During the winter we carry out temporary repairs. The choice to do a temporary repair can be made of a range of reasons.

The repair didn’t work due to the state of the road itself and weather. Our current asset management system and associated process doesn’t support us in accurately tracking these.

The repair was of a poor standard to start with. This we do track accurately. Our
performance indicators with Milestone are showing that 98% of repairs are meeting
quality standards. During the winter we carry out temporary repairs. The choice to do a temporary
repair can be made of a range of reasons. Where we do carry out a temporary repair
we record it and will organise to go back to do the permanent repair swiftly with the
appropriate materials and traffic safety management. Temporary repairs are
generally carried out for the following reasons; very cold or wet weather; dangerous
location for the gang to be at; heavy traffic; very poor surrounding road surface.
Temporary repairs being carried out and are not lasting long. I have many
where they are lasting only a few weeks which is simply a waste of tax payers

There are two main reasons why a temporary repair does not last.

  • The weather conditions are ’ bad’ for doing repairs. When it is very wet the
    new material is unable to bond to the edges of the hole. This results in the
    new material not being fully fixed. Through the action of vehicle tyres this then
    causes rapid failure of the repair.
  • The surrounding road surface is breaking up. In this instance the surrounding
    surface is broken away and the repair comes out.

We always try to do a permanent repair first time. Where we can not and have to do
a temporary we will plan the permanent repair for soon afterwards.
There will always be repairs that we put in as permanent that will fail relatively
quickly. Generally this is a low percentage of all the repairs we do.

What is done to prevent the contractor being paid multiple times for the same
inferior work?

Where it is not due to poor quality in materials or workmanship then we pay for the
repeat repair. (1 above)
Where the return repair is due to quality failure Milestone are not paid again.(2

We need to know what you and your department need to address the over
6000 reported potholes per weekend when you state that we are only fixing
some of these?

We fix all the potholes that we find or are reported to us. They are fixed according to
a safety risk order. Biggest risk to road users first and those less of a risk to road
users later This enables us to meet our primary objective of keeping people as safe
as we can. Where a defect is reported that is not an immediate safety hazard then a
repair would be carried out as part of a planned programme.

We determine the speed of our response to a report in accordance with our defect
criteria in the Highways Operational Standards. High risk to users we repair within 5
days; risk to users we repair within 21 days. Low risk we record and include within
suitable programmes.

Whilst we are seeing significantly more potholes this winter we are still meeting our
Highways Operational Standards and fixing the potholes within our Policy
timescales. During this winter, post the very cold snow spell we have had a steady
6000 potholes recorded for repair. These are a mix of 5day and 21 day repairs We
are repairing around 1750 per week.

When can we expect to be back at a status quo for ‘to do’ potholes that your
workforce can manage?

We will get back to the ‘norm’ for the time of year in terms of numbers after the
winter. Pothole repair is a reactive element of our highways service and as such we
resource to meet the demand. We have increased our resources to ensure we repair
all potholes within our policy timescales. As numbers reduce we will scale back the
resources. Equally as we see they are starting to or there is a risk of them increasing
we will scale up again.

How many claims are being made against the council for road damage to

Each year we receive around 500 claims across all areas of highways maintenance.
We pay out on about 17% of those. The high majority are low costs e.g. £120 for a
tyre damaged on a pothole we didn’t get fixed in time. Last year we paid out £180k.
Due to how claims work and the timescales for people to make a claim the claims we
pay in any given year do not directly relate to those made in that year.

Why is the reported pot hole solution fix, be that materials or method, deemed
by so many as second rate?

Our various repair methods are all effective tools in our toolbox. Each solution has
different benefits and is used where it works best. Sometimes they don’t work as we
would like and whilst frustrating is not a frequent occurrence as shown by our
performance monitoring. Generally, it is factors such as weather conditions, poor
condition of the wider road surface that cause the failures and return visits.

Why did the contractor close for 2 weeks over Christmas, a prime time of less
traffic to attend to critical potholes and road repairs?

We do not close down our pothole repairs over Christmas. The pothole gangs and
our emergency response managers stay working throughout the year 24/7. We make
sure all potholes that are a safety hazard as per our policy are fixed over the
Christmas Period.

What is being done to pavements in rural areas that are so bad vulnerable
pedestrians dare not leave their homes for fear of falls and trips?

We make sure that we repair safety defects on footways the same as we do potholes
on the roads. Through our major maintenance programme for footways, we have a
yearly programme of sealing and surfacing where we improve the condition of
footways as far as available funding allows. Where we receive particular concerns
from residents and users who identify as within equalities protected groups, we
consider their particular needs in our assessment of defects and repairs.

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