Is Bad Drainage Destroying Essex Roads?

Essex roads have been flooded for centuries, as shown in John Constable's The Hay Wain.
Essex roads have been flooded for centuries, as shown in John Constable's The Hay Wain.
Essex roads have been flooded for centuries, as shown in John Constable’s The Hay Wain.

Potholes and poor drainage compared to Greek mythology

We discuss the current poor state of the country’s roads due to the lack of coordinated investment, and how poor drainage is potentially a worse problem than potholes!

The AA have compared the number of potholes and the generally poor drainage of UK roads with two characters from Greek mythology. In describing funding for roads as “a lottery,” they likened potholes and road drainage with Scylla and Charybdis, two mythological monsters who were a danger to travellers.

Lack of investment in roads

According to the BBC, the government has slashed road maintenance budgets by some £1.2 billion over a four year period since 2011. As a result, local authorities have adhered to a policy of ‘make do and mend’ as road repairs are conducted in a haphazard manner in response to severe potholing and poor drainage.

This contrasts with the ideal of a coordinated road maintenance plan, where problems are nipped in the bud before they become a major issue.

Motorists dissatisfied with the state of local roads

The AA surveyed over 18,000 of its members in January 2015 over their views of the condition of roads in their areas. Half say that roads made treacherous through potholes and pooling of water through poor drainage are a key issue, and around two-thirds are convinced their local authority doesn’t clear drains as effectively as they previously did.

Fraser Ruthven of London Drainage Facilities, says that action must be taken to improve our drainage networks to decrease the amount of damage we are seeing in our roads.

There is less sympathy with local authorities than previously when they cited extreme levels of high rainfall as the reasons for the high amount of surface water on the UK’s roads. In early 2014 this was seen as a valid excuse, with nearly three quarters of those surveyed by the AA last year, but the survey conducted in January 2105 revealed that this ‘acceptance of high rainfall reason’ has dropped to just over half.

It’s bad news for the government as the condition of the UK roads is seen as a significant election issue. For local elections it’s even more of a worry for the candidates as motorists and other road users hold their local authority directly responsible for the condition of local roads.

Bad drainage the cause of poor roads

flooded road, blocked drains
A blocked drain gully can cause flooded. Just the start of problems. Photo by Alan Stanton (CC Licence).

It’s a vicious circle in that potholes and other road damage are caused by water – it gets into little cracks and fissures and, when it turns to ice, expands and makes the cracks larger with potholes eventually forming.

These potholes then fill with water in wet conditions and cause a major hazard. A pothole concealed by being full of water can easily throw a motorcyclist off their machine, and can cause expensive damage to tyres and suspensions for car drivers.

In the light of their survey, AA president Edmund King made the point that, while the Department for Transport tends to focus on potholes when discussing the state of the UK’s roads, it is poor drainage that presents the bigger threat to the nation’s drivers and the wellbeing of their vehicles.

Running repairs not the answer

Clearly the piecemeal repairing of potholes and other ‘spot’ repairs is not addressing the underlying issue. The issue being poor drainage causing water to stay on the road surface long enough to cause the formation of potholes, and then filling them up thus concealing them from view.

While the local authorities, and by definition the government as a whole through the Department for Transport, continue to reduce road investment then motorists will find themselves dodging potholes for some time to come.

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