The Case for Surface Dressing

Date: 9th January

As the pothole pandemic grows each year, so does the damage to vehicles travelling through them. There are many sustainable surface treatments however, that stop them forming in the first place.

Pothole repairs are extremely expensive and disruptive to the UK taxpayer. A pothole is filled every 19 seconds, at a total annual cost of £107m in 2021/22 – the highest cost since 2015/16. (Source: AIA Alarm Survey 2022).

Repairing a significant number of potholes isn’t a sign of success, but a sign of failure. The allocated pothole repair fund provided by central government has been and gone, and yet 1.7 million potholes are repaired each year. Why?

According to statistics from the Department for Transport the percentage of roads (A, B & C) receiving Surface Dressing treatment has declined 30% since 2016. This is mirrored by feedback from REA members who report a 36% decline in the application of surface dressing – and an increase in potholes.

Longer term, the DfT statistics show a steady decline of the use of surface treatments over not just years, but decades.

We would argue that this is aligned with the continued pivot towards shorter term funding decision making.

The decline in the use of surface treatments represents a failure to leverage the advantages that such a planned preventative approach provides.

Through the appropriate planned application of such treatments prior to the development of serious surface and structural defects (such as potholes), road conditions can be managed and maintained far more effectively as well as road lifespans extended – potentially indefinitely.

This provides significant cost benefits. Previous research from the AIA has shown that it is 20 times more expensive to carry out reactive maintenance (filling potholes) than planned, preventative maintenance.

Surface Dressing is the most cost-effective method, both financially and environmentally, to improve skid resistance and seal the road surface, which will stop the ingress of water and help prevent potholes appearing in the first place. According to the latest RSTA research, it is also one of the most carbon efficient treatments.

This presentation focused on:

*Why we already have an answer to the problem with potholes
*Why local authorities should be incentivised to use surface treatments
*How modern techniques such as encapsulation are improving the laying of surface dressing, making it more efficient, effective and safer for the travelling public
*How surface dressing can be used alongside other surface treatments
*How surface dressing can be an important part of decarbonising the maintenance process for local roads
*How surface dressing and other surface treatments could save highway authorities money in the medium-long-term
*Why we have developed a industry campaign to promote it


Chris Allen-Smith, Group Manager, Eastern Herts Head of Profession, Asset Management & Maintenance Hertfordshire CC

Chris is a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of CIHT who has been active in the field of highway asset management for over twenty years. He manages a multi-disciplinary team within Hertfordshire County Council responsible for end-to-end highway asset management from gathering and interpreting data and using it to inform strategies and develop programmes to delivering those works on the ground across a broad range of assets.

Chris is an active member of a number of national groups including the UKRLG Asset Management Board and has helped to develop a number of key guidance documents over the years.

Paul Boss, Chief Executive, RSTA

Paul is Chief Executive at the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) and prior to this had over 30 years’ experience within local authority highways, both directly with local authorities and with Tier 1 provider Amey. From 2005 to 2020, he was Highway Asset Manager looking after strategic, tactical and operational highway asset management in Staffordshire. He joined Amey in 2014 as part of the Staffordshire County Council / Amey Infrastructure+ Strategic Highway Partnership where he also managed teams responsible for the design of structural, preventative and structures schemes within the Partnership.

He is a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of the Institute of Highway Engineers, Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, Member of the Institute of Asset Management and Member of the Institute of Asphalt Technology. Vice Chair of the UKRLG / ADEPT Asset Management Board.

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