WHEN driving through Cheltenham recently I heard an almighty crash, followed by a large amount of swearing.
Everyone in the queue craned their necks expecting to see a collision but instead we saw a middle-aged man climbing out of his Chrysler Voyager, which was completely embedded in a foot-wide pothole.
Everyone moans about the shortcomings of British roads, but nothing seems to get people quite as mad as potholes and not without reason.
A recent Britannia Rescue survey said that UK potholes take up a combined area of 295 sq m, with one pothole for every mile of Britain’s roads.
The finger of blame is very often pointed at the councils for not doing enough to prevent or treat potholes.
“We are well aware of the public’s concerns and we empathise with their views,” says Jason Humm who, as area highways manager for Gloucestershire County Council, is the man on the receiving end of thousands of phone calls a year reporting potholes.
“Potholes are a big concern for the public and are very high on our priority list.
“We take steps to ensure all of the major roads are checked once a month and smaller, lesser-used tracks at least once a year,” he added.
The Highway’s team prioritises potholes which are on corners or high speed sections of road and aims to fill these within 24 hours. Others, if they meet the national safety requirement, will be repaired within a maximum of 28 days – in line with UK guidelines.
This means that fewer drivers will suffer the fate of our unlucky Chrysler-driving friend, as priority potholes are repaired quickly by the team. With 3,300 miles of roads in Gloucestershire, repairing potholes is a big operation, and the job is made considerably harder thanks to the county’s typically rainy weather. Mr Humm explained: “Roads are made of a stony surface which gets gradually worn down and cracked by the heat of the day and traffic.
“When water sets into these cracks overnight it will freeze in the winter and, as basic physics will tell you, water expands when it is frozen. This forces the surface apart and forms a hole.”
December to March time is the traditional “pothole season” with highway maintenance taking the rest of the year to play catch-up.
However, with the odds stacked against them the Highway’s team is, remarkably, making progress.
“In two years we have managed to reduce the repair backlog from near £100million to £86million,” said Cllr Vernon Smith, cabinet member for highways at Gloucestershire County Council.
“Last week the county council secured an additional £3million of government funding for the county’ roads which will go into pothole repair activity to improve the condition of roads by funding additional pothole repair gangs,” added Cllr Smith.
Despite the steady progress, total pothole elimination is an impossible dream.
“It is a very long haul process,” said Cllr Smith.
“We have to invest around £15 million a year just to standstill with potholes.”
Considering the annual budget of the team is just over £20m, it is easy to see that only so much can be done to make inroads into the problem.
“Repairing roads is a bit like painting the San Francisco Bridge,” said Cllr Smith.
“You can get to the end of it and realise the start needs painting again. It’s a never ending process.”
Reporting a pothole has never been easier. With special website www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/reportit dedicated to tackling the problem alongside the Highways team which can be contacted on 08000 514 514.
Potholes will exist for as long as there is rain – which those of us who live in the area would grimly say that Gloucestershire is anything but short of.
But thanks to the work of pothole gangs, accidents like the one witnessed in Cheltenham are becoming fewer and further between.