Find out how we assess road condition, plan and prioritise road maintenance, and the pros and cons of different types of road treatments.
North Yorkshire is England’s largest county, with 5350 miles of roads. Laid end to end, they would reach India.
Keeping our roads in the best condition for the money that we have available is one of the biggest challenges that we face. We have an annual highways maintenance budget of around £55 million and this money has to cover both planned maintenance programmes, and responding to problems as they arise.
Our aim is to keep the roads in as good a condition as possible by maximising the amount of planned maintenance work whilst also maintaining safety by fixing potholes or other defects. Prevention being better than cure, it is not only more cost effective but also results in better quality roads for drivers throughout the county.
Planned maintenance is where we decide in advance which roads we are going to work on. This approach makes our budget go further, helps to prolong the life of a stretch of road and reduces the likelihood of problems happening in the future.
We assess the quality of the road surface and use this information to create an accurate picture of the overall condition of the road network. We rate the condition of the roads using a simple red, amber and green system.
- Red – maintenance is required
- Amber – maintenance is required soon
- Green – maintenance not required
There are a number of ways in which we measure the condition of the road surfaces. These include:
- using a specialist survey vehicle to scan the surface of our busier roads -around 1300 miles in one direction one year, and the other direction the following year; and
- carrying out regular visual inspections from a slow moving vehicle for the remaining roads.
The most cost effective use of our finances is to target the 'amber' condition roads that are in danger of becoming red and to 'chip away' at the existing red condition roads. Through this approach we are able to stop roads getting into a condition where a more expensive preventative treatment is needed, or where potholes or other defects might become more common.
An 'amber' condition road will more often require a less costly road treatment such as surface dressing which lengthens its usable lifetime.
There are other factors which affect our decision.
- We mainly prioritise our busier roads which have the biggest impact on the people who use them.
- We may decide that a road in poor condition, such as a red rating, is unlikely to get any worse and so we can delay maintenance until we can plan a long-term repair programme. We will, however, ensure we maintain its safety in the meantime, through reactive maintenance.
- We often receive funding that can only be used for specific types of road. An example of this is when we recently bid successfully for money from the government to improve the condition of our lesser used roads that are important to the local economy.
This approach means that you could see us working on roads that are, on the face of it, in a better condition than others, however this is done to maximise the long term benefit for the money that we have.
Picking the right treatment is essential for making the best use of our highways budget to keep the roads in the best condition possible.
The biggest enemies of road condition are time and water. Over time, a newly laid road will lose its flexibility and start to become brittle. Once this happens, traffic, particularly heavy traffic, can cause cracks to appear in the surface. This allows water to seep through and undermine the road, leading to the formation of potholes and other defects. Very cold or wet weather speeds up this process, which is why there are often more potholes at the end of winter.
There are four main types of treatment:
- Surface dressing. A layer of bitumen is spread on an existing surface. Chippings are then spread on the surface and rolled in. Over the next few days, traffic on the newly surface dressed road beds the chippings into the surface. Importantly, surface dressing re-seals the surface against both cracking and water. It improves the surface texture and is quick to lay, minimising road closures and disruption for the public. It can last around 10 years under normal use, can be re-dressed up to 3 times, and at around £3 - £5 per square metre, it is the most cost effective way of maintaining the road network.
- Resurfacing. We take the top surface layer off a road that is structurally sound, and replace it with a new surface. This type of treatment is about five times more expensive than surface dressing. A newly resurfaced road can last up to 20 years, however, we will surface dress it before it reaches that age to prolong its lifetime. This explains why we often surface dress a road that looks in otherwise good condition.
- Reconstruction. Reconstruction is required when a length of road has deteriorated to a point where we can neither surface dress nor resurface it. Reconstruction consists of digging down to repair or replace the foundation layers of the road and finally resurfacing it. As with resurfacing, a reconstructed road can last up to 20 years, but will be surfaced dressed before then. At around 15 times the cost of surface dressing, this is a very expensive treatment which can also cause a lot of disruption.
- Patched repairs. We often apply patching to a road that is largely good but has some problems. This is similar to filling in potholes, but is better value as it takes place on a length of road, not just a single location. Patching often enables the road to then be surfaced dressed, which further extends its life.
There will always be highways maintenance issues that need to be investigated and we have two ways of finding out about them.
- We receive thousands of reports of issues annually from customers. We want to know about these, so if you see a highways problem, please report it using our online system.
- We have a team of highways officers who travel the county all year round, inspecting road conditions. Generally, the busier the road, the more often we inspect it. If something is spotted during an inspection, then the highways officer investigates it in more detail.
However we find out about a highways problem, we have to take a decision on whether to do something about it. We cannot fix every problem because we simply do not have the money to do so and prioritisation is the only way to spend our money wisely.
The decision on what action we take is based on these factors:
- how bad the problem is – for example how long or deep a pothole is; and
- where the problem is – for example how busy the road is.
We use a combination of these factors to prioritise the problem and either repair it or make it safe within a particular timescale. We operate a risk-based approach, meaning that serious problems or problems on busier roads get fixed fastest.
Further information about highways maintenance
We maintain more than 1,600 bridges on the county road network in partnership with consultants Mouchel.
Following assessment, the target of our bridge strengthening programme target is to have 95 per cent of the network capable of carrying vehicles without weight restrictions. The programme of bridges to be strengthened is published annually in the local transport plan progress report and is dependent on the funding available.
Footbridges on public rights of way are maintained by our countryside services public rights of way team, while urban footbridges, footbridges next to fords and all pipes and culverts with a width of less than 1.5m are the responsibility of the local highway maintenance manager.
Our interactive map is searchable and shows details about dates, severity of impact, and who is responsible for the roadworks, including bridges. You can also sign up for email alerts for roadworks in your area too.
Boundary walls and fences are the responsibility of the landowner. However, if you have a concern regarding a wall or fence that is in a state of disrepair and encroaching on the highway, or is causing a safety hazard, you should report it to us.
We maintain and repair:
- walls supporting the structure of the highway - these are called highway retaining walls;
- walls retaining land that has been excavated in cutting to form a highway parapet wall on bridges; and
- walls providing a safety barrier.
We also manage the condition of the highway and carry out routine inspections and surveys in line with the highway maintenance plan (pdf / 342 KB) which defines our policies and maintenance methods. When carrying out works, to ensure the safety of site staff and road users, our contractors refer to and follow our road safety audit protocol (pdf / 88 KB).