The economics of road surface maintenance have left roads and car parks crumbling, but pothole repair specialists RENOO argues that the infrared repair technology is making small permanent repairs cheaper, simpler and more convenient for property owners and managers.
Following the icy assault of the ‘Beast from the East’, which swept across the UK this winter, the discovery of 2 million new potholes has prompted the government to release £100m in additional funding to assist in repairs to help stave off a growing threat to road users and the resulting liabilities. A threat made all the more apparent by a recent RAC report, which highlighted that Q1 2018 was one of the worst quarters on record for pothole damage. The number of “breakdowns likely to be attributed to damage caused by potholes and poor quality road surfaces” was seen to have doubled with an increase in “damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs or distorted wheels”.
The same problems also have a human cost: In 2017/18, £7.3m was successfully claimed by individuals against councils in England and Wales for road defects and 82% of this was a result of potholes.
While this was a particularly severe winter, the degree of damage to road surfaces only compounded an existing issue caused by the ongoing under investment in road maintenance across the nation. Indeed, the Asphalt Industry Alliance’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey, warned that a decade of neglect to the UK’s road network caused through annual shortfalls in maintenance budgets had racked up a liability of around £9.3bn.
While such spasmodic cycles of underinvestment, followed by bursts of emergency spending, are all too familiar when we look at government spending, the truth is that many private organisations also take a similar approach to maintaining the road surfaces in their own (literal) backyards. Across the UK, the harsh winter conditions have been equally taxing on car parks and private roads – and have equally revealed the risks of lax maintenance.
For property owners and facilities managers, the risks of injury claims should be the most pressing concern as the past decade has seen an increase in litigation and trips and falls have been the source of some of the largest compensation awards. The exposure to risk is fairly unambiguous as organisations have a Duty of Care to keep staff, visitors and passers by safe while on their premises. At the other end of the scale, but also important, the crumbling state of car parks and roads can reflect badly on owners and tenants and can detract from a properties kerb-appeal and overall value.
Why it’s been hard for organisations to maintain good quality surfaces
Neglect from private landlords can seem short-sighted especially as, unlike in the public sector where political considerations can influence spending choices, pragmatism usually comes first in business. However, that same pragmatism is the main reason why damaged road surfaces can be left to gradually worsen to the point where potholes become a significant issue as the prevalent economics of maintaining tarmac incentivise less frequent repairs.
Let’s quickly look at how potholes form. When water penetrates a road surface and freezes it expands and pushes out a cavity beneath the surface. As the ice thaws, this cavity then caves in to create a pothole. Water can penetrate via even the tiniest cracks in a surface and can thus become a recurring nuisance as repaired surfaces often repeatedly fail in the same areas as the over-banded bitumen becomes a point of weakness and then failure. For this reason, repeatedly patching a surface can seem a thankless task. Filling a pothole with gravel or simply laying a fresh topping of tarmac will not deal with the structural issues that are undermining the strength of the road so that within months, sometimes weeks, potholes carry on appearing across the surface.
Small repairs can also be disproportionately disruptive, particularly in high traffic areas. For example, to carry out repairs to a single pothole in a car park will still require a large amount of working space to cut out and repair the damaged area. Repairs also require several hours before the surface is ready for use.
A further challenge is the relatively high cost of carrying out smaller incremental repairs, particularly as tarmac is generally sold in tonne batches. As a result, small pothole repairs are often fitted in by contractors after a larger job to use up remaining materials. This use of less fresh tarmac also results in lower quality repairs that are more likely to fail. If this lack of quality seems surprising, it is worth considering that the more professional contractors in the industry are predominantly focused on roads and highways. There are therefore few services that are well suited to commercial properties (even though these landlords account for millions of square feet of highly trafficked hard standing tarmac areas).
Infrared repairs are making smaller repairs easier to tackle
Ultimately, waiting longer to replace a larger area can seem a more pragmatic solution, especially when resurfacing the entire section of road or a car park is a better way to prevent recurring potholes. However, in the meantime, the liabilities arising from personal injury and vehicle damage remain unaddressed. Due to the lack of effective solutions for smaller scale repairs, even the most responsible property owners and FMs have struggled with this particular dilemma and remain stuck in a “fix rather than maintain” mindset.
This is where the latest techniques for infrared repairs are starting to make a real difference as infrared technology enables a cost-effective service, which makes smaller, ongoing repairs a more viable option.
Unlike traditional repairs that require bulky and noisy equipment to cut away and replace old tarmac, infrared repairs work by heating the existing surface with no need to dispose of old tarmac waste. A compact heater is placed over a crack or pothole that uses infrared waves to penetrate the surface and raise the temperature of the tarmac to a workable temperature. Additional tarmac is added, but only a small amount is needed and this is brought on site in hot boxes so there’s no waste involved. The entire area is also reconditioned with rejuvenating chemicals. It is then compacted and sealed resulting in a permanent seamless repair, which is fused with the existing material in an ‘as new’ surface that has no cold joints and no points of weakness.
Compact infrared repair equipment ensures that permanent repairs can be done quickly and efficiently, using half the manpower and half the weight of equipment and vehicles compared to conventional repair methods (we estimate a 90% lower carbon footprint when accounting for waste and equipment). It’s less disruptive too: The process used means that a smaller area around the repair needs to be cordoned off and the time to complete a pothole repair is reduced to under an hour and the surface can be back in use within 20 minutes after the work has finished (a conventional repair would typically require over an hour).
The efficiency of this technique means that single pothole repairs can be offered to businesses in a far more simple and flexible manner and work can be quickly scheduled for the most convenient times. In other words, the service can be offered on a “just in time” basis that conforms to the customer’s needs and preferred procurement methods rather than dictated by the limitations of traditional approaches. By making smaller repairs more effective and affordable it also possible to start taking a more proactive, preventative approach to maintenance that prevents small issues becoming major costs at a later date. This reduces the cost of ongoing repairs - for example preventative repairs can be around 40% cheaper.
With pothole repairs becoming a more customer friendly service property managers no longer have to wait to save up enough potholes to justify the hassle of ‘small works’ orders and the ‘inconvenience and interruptions’ to the business while repairs are carried out. A modest budget will need to be allocated to ongoing repairs but, when considered against the potential costs of major resurfacing work or personal injury claims, this isn’t really a tough argument to make. Prevention really is better than cure.
Telephone: 0800 211 8743
Reader Reply Number 214005