Old ways are best

PUBLISHED: 10:24 19 February 2009 | UPDATED: 13:57 06 May 2010

SIR, — Re your story headlined Pothole problems to cost millions (Herts Advertiser, February 12). I fear that Herts County Councillor Stuart Pile s assessment of the cost of repairs to the roads in Hertfordshire is seriously underestimated. While the rec

SIR, - Re your story headlined Pothole problems to cost millions (Herts Advertiser, February 12). I fear that Herts County Councillor Stuart Pile's assessment of the cost of repairs to the roads in Hertfordshire is seriously underestimated.

While the recent weather conditions have contributed to the increase in the break-up of the carriageways, the fundamental problem has been a lack of routine maintenance over many years. If the surface is not sealed, water gets into the formation, and the road fails. This concept has been known for centuries with Macadam developing the design concept that has stood the test of time enhanced with the sealing of tar to give - surprise surprise - tar macadam. Keep the surface sealed, the formation dry, and the road will give many years of service. Fail to maintain the surface, allow cracks to go unattended and water will damage the road to when only full reconstruction will suffice.

Filling in a pothole with a barrow load of cold compound and whacking it with the back of a shovel is no good at all.

In the not too distant past, the county had a county surveyor's department. His team had experienced engineers in the design and maintenance of the roads. The team included "scouts" who reported back on the state of the highways, and there was a rolling programme of highway maintenance - some tar spray and chip, some resurfacing, some reconstruction. Money was known to have to be expended every year to keep these assets in good repair and this was included in the county budget.

The county council in its wisdom got rid of this vital department, and brought in "consultants". The ethos of consultants is to make money for their company - they are not public servants as were the original county engineers department. They make their money and profits primarily through design fees. This means that they wish to concentrate on new works (the revamping of St Peter's Street in St Albans is a good example of design-fee expenditure). The concept of design fees goes through the system so that schemes with little or no merit are extolled to the detriment of routine maintenance. There are few fees to be paid to consultants for routine maintenance - so road maintenance has been suppressed in favour of "new" schemes that attract design fees.

I feel that the road maintenance budget has been reduced in real terms over a number of years, with the highway maintenance budget being effectively raided for other departments. I am struggling to remember when I last saw a proper road resurfacing being carried out and I have not seen any road reconstruction for years. I have seen one tar spray and chip in the last year. I grant you that I do not drive throughout the county to seek them out. However, I have noticed the extensive deterioration of the road surfaces in Hertfordshire - the cracks, the surface plucking, the pot holes, the surface tracking, the puddles, the blocked drains. I always know when I arrive back in Hertfordshire - my car vibrates through the appalling road surface and wanders due to road-surface tracking.

It may not be "millions" that need to be spent on the highways - it could be "billions". Lack of maintenance has allowed this precious asset - handed down from a previous generation - now to be a liability. The county councillors have not been worthy stewards of our infrastructure. Short-term expediency has overruled consideration of simple routine maintenance.

No, Cllr Pile, you cannot just blame the recent weather. I commend you to carry out a root-and-branch review of your "portfolio" by an independent assessor.

NINIAN LOGAN,

Crosspath, Radlett.

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