01 April 2010

Northamptonshire County Council is set to radically alter the way highways maintenance is carried out in a bid to improve the quality of the road network and make it safer for motorists.

Increased usage, coupled with the worst winter weather in 30 years has resulted in widespread damage to road surfaces in Northamptonshire, similar to the rest of the country, with thousands of defects being reported to the county council each month.

On April 13, the council’s cabinet will vote on proposals which would see maintenance crews carrying out more pro-active preventative re-surfacing work and focusing on semi-permanent repairs on highways defects, rather than temporary maintenance.

Essentially, the new method of working aims to prioritise maintenance on roads which are still in a reasonable condition before they deteriorate to a level which needs emergency intervention.

The improved integrity of the highway would make it more resistant to wear and tear and the effects of severe winter conditions. In the long-term this would prove to be far more effective and offer better value for money for the taxpayer as on average five times more network coverage can be carried out by preventative treatment as opposed to full structural maintenance.

Roads which are already in a poor condition would still be maintained by semi-permanent patching repairs and emergency defects would be addressed so that roads would be safe and not a risk to the travelling public.

In order to carry out higher-quality repairs, defects which would have been filled within 24-hours, will now be dealt with within five days but now carried out to give a longer lasting repair.

Less severe defects, which previously had a 28-day limit, will now be included, where budget and resource will allow, on a prioritised list of preventative maintenance work and this will usually be completed within six-months in a more joined-up and area-based way.

In addition, and as part of the overall strategy, an additional £4 million will be invested in the first year of the scheme for carrying out preventative maintenance work on highways and footways in the county. Maintenance crews will also adopt an area-based approach and will carry out more comprehensive work while visiting each area.

Cllr Heather Smith, county council cabinet member for environment, growth and transport, said: “The first two months of 2010 saw some of the worst winter weather in 30 years and this, coupled with the icy conditions in February 2009, has left our highways in a terrible condition. Last month alone saw more than 8,000 highways defects reported to the county council.

“What we need to do is improve the overall quality of the road network, so that by enhancing the structure of the carriageways they will be less susceptible to the damage that extreme conditions can cause.

“Of course, to put bring the whole network up to a good standard would cost millions, which the public purse does not currently have. This has forced us to think of a new, innovative approach in order to tackle this huge problem.”

Cllr Smith added: “We have recognised the irritation of the public who see a quick and speedy repair resulting in the defect recurring in a short timescale, so we will be placing more emphasis on carrying out higher-quality, semi-permanent patching repairs and re-surfacing schemes.”