A day with Ringway: Just how are those pesky potholes dealt with?

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They took over the contract to manage the maintenance of Hertfordshire’ highways in October.

In January, they were presented with a formal early warning notice from the council for poor performance. They admitted their service had not been up to scratch and that it would take time before it reached the expected standard.

Ringway workers Colin Price and Jez Harris spent a morning with the Gazette demonstrating pothole repairs.

Ringway workers Colin Price and Jez Harris spent a morning with the Gazette demonstrating pothole repairs.

June was the month that multinational company Ringway promised to be back on track and so the Gazette was invited to see just how the potholes which have been driving motorists round the bend are really dealt with.

Of course, many of the problems seen in roads around Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring are caused by bad weather. Ringway’s David Henning explains that potholes are formed when water seeps through cracks in the road surface made by normal traffic use.

As temperatures fall, the water freezes and expands as it forms ice. As this expansion occurs, the ice pushes against the road and creates a bubble effect under the road surface. When the ice melts, this leaves behind a hole underneath the surface. As traffic passes over the hole, the surface weakens and eventually collapses to form a pothole.

The science of how potholes are formed seems straightforward enough, but people living in particularly craterous areas such as Hemel Hempstead’s Barnacres Road have been frustrated by the perceived lack of action by Ringway.

Ringway workers Colin Price and Jez Harris spent a morning with the Gazette demonstrating pothole repairs.

Ringway workers Colin Price and Jez Harris spent a morning with the Gazette demonstrating pothole repairs.

The problem for the contractor is time – there have been 4,912 non-emergency faults reported in Dacorum since Ringway began working in October. County-wide, there were more than 30,000, and this doesn’t even include the thousands of emergency faults they are called out to.

It is for this reason that the unpopular ‘temporary fixes’, such as many of those used on Barnacres, have to be implemented.

Ringway use a number of criteria and national standards to decide on and prioritise work – the most hazardous problems must be filled temporarily to make sure the road is safe to use. While this may seem like a waste of time and resources to road-users, it is, David explains, necessary until a permanent repair can be carried out at a later date as part of a planned programme of works.

Most permanent repairs require road closures and diversions which need to be planned to avoid disruption. This is why Ringway regret they are not able to achieve permanent results at the first visit.

They do say, however that the temporary patches, made using a jet spray to fill the hole with sticky emulsion and small stones, often last up to two years.

This year’s winter outstayed its welcome and left the county’s roads more full of holes than a block of Swiss cheese. While Ringway may not have got off to the best start with our highways, it must be noted that only 129 of the thousands of non-emergency faults reported in Dacorum since October have been left outstanding. Of the 709 road fault emergencies reported in the borough over the eight month period, none are outstanding.

Let’s hope that the coming months will bring more sunshine and the better-than-ever service Ringway has promised.

See hemeltoday.co.uk for a video report into how exactly potholes are temporarily and permanently repaired.