Spray-on tarmac ‘to cure city’s pothole problem’

Transport chiefs are facing a �260m backlog in road repairs. Picture: Esme Allen
Transport chiefs are facing a �260m backlog in road repairs. Picture: Esme Allen
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Spray-on tarmac that will repair five times as many roads at the same cost is to be used on the Capital’s streets as part of a plan to tackle our crumbling carriageways.

The tough new material, which is already in use in some other parts of the country, can also withstand heavy traffic for twice as long as the resurfacing materials currently used in Edinburgh.

Transport chiefs are warning a massive £260 million backlog in road repairs will still take years to clear but say their package of reforms will give the city a fighting chance of turning the tide when it comes to repairing our broken roads.

The plans, which come after the Evening News revealed a secret council report highlighting failings in the management of the city’s roads, includes:

• Appointing a ‘roads tsar’ to target repairs and oversee all maintenance on carriageways

• Replacing piecemeal repairs by upgrading whole sections of road with a new top layer

• Introducing the new cheaper, more durable roadsurfacing

• Streamlining pothole complaints system to accelerate repairs.

The overhaul comes after the News revealed how Edinburgh had the worst roads of any Scottish city but was paying more per kilometre of repairs than Glasgow – and twice as much as Dundee or Aberdeen.

Vital street infrastructure like traffic signals, street lights and drains had been also left to degrade without badly needed maintenance.

The new spray-on road-repair system allows carriageways to be resurfaced at a fraction of the cost, with the city paying just £4 per sq m compared to £20 sq m – the cost of the cheapest repairs currently being used.

Experts said the quality of the surface dressing repair is superior to the type in current use, lasting between ten and 15 years and sealing the road against water damage and potholes.

Traffic-light rankings that take public complaints into account will identify roads in fair or ‘amber’ condition that are suitable for spraying with the liquid bitumen surfacing material, already used in Glasgow and Dundee.

Andrew MacIver, senior lecturer in civil and transport engineering at Edinburgh Napier University, hailed the measures.

He said: “Normally surface dressings are applied to provide a friction surface just to renew the complete surface of the road, but if you have any underlying damage or deformation to the road, then it’s not that suitable.

“Like the council has said, it is suitable to put a very thin resurfacing layer on top, which can improve the road to some degree in terms of sealing the top layer and preventing any water ingress and damage to the road.

“It gives you a fresh, hard-wearing surface, increases the texture, increases the skid resistance, and it also prevents more water penetrating into the road.”

The council will also appoint a powerful “roads tsar” with authority over all maintenance and repairs work on city streets, in an attempt to sweep away years of mismanagement and wasteful spending.It is thought the appointment will lead to the scrapping of several middle managers.

Currently, depending on the location and importance of a road, pothole complaints appear on the radar of three different bodies.

Under the new system, crossed wires and confusion should be eliminated, with responsibility for major maintenance and repairs being removed from neighbourhood teams.

Tony Kenmuir, director at cab firm Central Taxis, welcomed the action but said he hoped the new solutions were not a “false economy”.

He said: “Apart from concerns over the comfort and safety of our passengers, the worse the condition of our roads, the higher our costs for vehicle repairs. We are pleased to see the council acknowledge this issue and make commitments to affirmative action. Shallow resurfacing has a place. It can speed up repair times and cost less in the short term.

“However, just like papering over cracks we have a concern that it may not address deeper structural issues in places which could lead to potholes re-appearing over time.

“If the repairs have to be redone it could turn out to be more expensive in the long run.

“We’ll have to hope that this is not a false economy and 
the new ranking criteria will lead to this strategy being employed only where it is appropriate.”

The changes – expected to be introduced next year – will not be implemented until after plans to break up the council’s mammoth Services for Communities division – which includes the Transport Department – are published by chief executive Sue Bruce.

Traffic signals, street lights, drains and retaining walls will all fall under the remit of the head of asset management, benefiting from a large central budget.

Transport convener Lesley Hinds said the leaked Transport Review had been charged with identifying how best to use resources and showed “we weren’t using resources in the best way we could”.

She said: “We listened to what the public said, what their priorities were, and what we should do to improve not just the transport and roads department, but to improve the services and provide them more efficiently.”

“The Transport Department has been carrying out a comprehensive consultation process with staff and the unions over the past 18 months, since the internal Transport Review was first presented.

“Through this consultation, the department aims to put in place the right organisational structure to ensure we offer an effective and efficient transport and roads service which delivers best value for the taxpayer.”

Service in disarray

THE Evening News’ investigation uncovered a roads service in disarray.

The backlog to fix potholed roads has spiralled as high as £260 million – four times what was previously thought. The quality of repairs was so poor that most failed within seven years. Out-of-control spending on winter weather treatment put road clearing services at risk, while lack of investment in traffic signals, drains and street lighting sparked safety fears and meant the council failed to meet repairs targets.


By Howard Robinson, CEO, Road Surface Treatments Association

“MOST councils are short of money because of cutbacks, and they can’t always afford to replace the road surface with asphalt, so by patching the road and surface dressing it, they effectively buy themselves ten years’ life before they need to do something else to the road.

“It has been used on motorways and trunk roads. It’s the most cost effective treatment. It’s also got very high productivity. During a typical day, a well-trained crew could easily do between 10-20,000 sq m.

“Surface dressing requires a lot of planning to get it right. The first challenge is to select the right site because not all roads are appropriate.

“If there are potholes that need to be filled in, that has to be done beforehand. The process itself involves spraying a liquid bitumen emulsion on to the road surface, and then having sprayed it, almost immediately applying high-quality stone chippings on to the surface that are then rolled in.

“The site then has to be protected, with a period of after-care required.

“The work gang has to regulate traffic flow through the area for a period.

“Applying surface dressing to roads in middling condition is really how it should be used.

It does three things: apart from restoring texture depth and skid resistance, keeping the road safe to drive on, it also seals the road surface.”