Where Shropshire’s £9m roads budget goes

03/02/2017

Where Shropshire’s £9m roads budget goes

Shropshire Council spends around £9 million each year on resurfacing and surface dressing the county’s roads to make them a lot safer for car drivers and all other users. The work covers anything from unclassified rural roads to town centre streets to main ‘A’ roads.

During the past two years, the council says it has:

  • Resurfaced more than 120km (74.4 miles) of road, and
  • Surface dressed 1.7million square metres of road (don’t get too excited - that’s just under two-thirds of a square mile).

Here’s a video which the council has produced to explain a bit about what it spends that £9 million on, and further on in this article, we’ll cover more about the subject. But first, we present some background about roads, and why they need regular repair and maintenance.

What Is A Road Made Of?

The brief answer is: A lot of different ingredients from what first went into them when the Romans built the first ones 4,000 years ago!

Then, the main materials used were timber and stone, with a timber underframe on top of which individual stones were laid. This began with a layer of large stones, onto which was added another covering of smaller stones. In time, the pressure exerted by the carts, animals and humans which used these roads meant that the timber and larger stones became very tightly packed and locked together, while the smaller stones on and closer to the surface could absorb the main impact placed on them, and spread it over a wider area, so evening out the wear on both the surface and the layers underneath.

Modern roads are built mainly of asphalt or concrete. Asphalt typically consists of a small proportion (about five per cent) of cement, made with a mix of asphalt and bitumen cement, with the rest being various aggregates (stone, sand, and gravel).

Who’s Responsible For Looking After Our Roads?

This is generally pretty straightforward. A national body, Highways England, has the job of maintaining and co-ordinating repairs on what’s known as the Strategic Road Network.

As well as all motorways except a handful, such as the M6 Toll which are maintained under contracts with private firms, this includes a number of other trunk roads, which mainly connect major towns and cities, or are considered important for strategic reasons.

Here in Shropshire, the most important roads come under the management of Highways England’s Midlands region. The A5 and the A483 are both on the list of roads which come under its responsibility, but where these roads cross over the Welsh border, they are taken over by the North and Mid-Wales Trunk Road Agency.

Highways England is a government-owned body, and gets its funding in the form of grants from central government.

The second tier of responsibility falls upon county and unitary councils across England and Wales.

These are responsible for all other main and minor roads, as well as all adopted roads, in other words, those which a council has agreed that it will maintain and repair.

This generally covers all roads which aren’t the responsibility of one of the above bodies, and lots of local agreements are in place which govern who is responsible for which roads. In many cases, local councils and unitary authorities have set up their own organisations to co-ordinate and carry out road repair and maintenance work.

Often, while a local council may be responsible for planning road maintenance, it outsources the work itself to other private companies, and puts the work out to tender to try to achieve the best value for local council tax payers.

Why Do Roads Need Resurfacing?

It’s pretty obvious really - the main reason is simply that the top surface which comes into contact with all those vehicles’ tyres eventually wears out. Every type of road surface is also porous, meaning that it absorbs rainwater. But in time, this water will work its way down through the layers of whichever material the road is made from, and this will cause cracks in the road surface and layers underneath.

Ice is an even worse enemy of road surfaces. As water freezes, it expands, so if it has worked its way into the under-layers of a road, usually through an existing crack, however small, it will cause large numbers of other, tiny cracks to develop. When these are subjected to pressure from the repeated actions of vehicles passing over the top of them, they have a nasty habit of joining together, and forming even bigger cracks or, in some cases when the pressure is in a concentrated area, potholes.

While the suspension systems of our new or used cars, vans, trucks and buses have become increasingly sophisticated and able to absorb some pretty big knocks and bumps, there is a similar ‘drip’ effect on the condition of these, and other, components. So repeated driving over potholes may damage parts of a vehicle, and bring about the need for premature replacement of components such as tyres and shock absorbers.

No council or body responsible for road maintenance wants this to happen, as it could leave them open to claims to meet the cost of putting such damage right.

But local councils spend a fortune every year on processing and meeting the cost of claims for compensation caused by pothole damage, with the RAC estimating that - not including the actual money paid out - each claim costs a council £147 to process, with a new claim being received every 11 minutes.

In order to ensure that the under-pressure budgets for road maintenance and repairs are spent where the money will do the most good, most county councils and unitary authorities have set up local area committees, which are each allocated a share of the budget, and can spend it where they feel the need is most urgent.

As this article notes, overall spending on road maintenance and repairs is put into one of four categories:

  • Winter maintenance
  • Cyclic maintenance, including pothole repairs, surface patching, road markings, traffic signs and verge cutting
  • Capital expenditure for early intervention to extend the life of the road surface, and
  • Capital expenditure for larger resurfacing and major bridge refurbishment works

Shropshire is covered by five of these local area committees, while a central team is responsible for co-ordinating larger projects.

It also points out that safety checks are regularly carried out on all roads for which it’s responsible, their frequency depending on the road’s category and amount of traffic.

It’s A (Mainly) Thankless Job

We think you’ll agree that Shropshire County Council is pretty proactive when it comes to telling us what it’s doing to keep our roads in good nick.

It even operates an online reporting system for residents to notify it of potholes and damage to bridges or road signs, which you’ll find here

Like painting the Forth Road Bridge, and any other huge maintenance task, though, it’s a never-ending treadmill of work, which is constantly being looked at, to see where improvements can be made.

But we wanted to put this article together to show that the hard-working teams who put in loads of effort to maintain Shropshire’s roads really do have their hands full - but despite this, try hard to keep as many of us who use them as happy as possible.

Do you have any first-hand experience of the quality of road repairs and maintenance around Shropshire? Maybe you’ve seen both the good and bad of their work. We’d love to hear your stories, good or bad, so get in touch through our Facebook page. And don’t forget, we’ve always got a great selection of quality used cars to really improve your travel experiences around the county.