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How Roads Are Made: A Complete Guide To Tarmac Patch Repair

Roads have been around for thousands of years, with construction methods gradually improving over time. In this informative blog, we’ll explore how roads are made in the UK: from their early beginnings to the present day. We’ll also cover the important role of tarmac and how tarmac patch repair can help keep roads and motorways well maintained.



Surface defects

Roads and motorways: early beginnings to present day

Roads have shaped how society functions for centuries. Let’s take a look at their fascinating history:


Ancient roads

The earliest roads in the UK were simple tracks created by ancient communities, often following natural paths and animal migration routes. The Romans then introduced advanced road construction techniques to Britain, constructing a network of well-engineered highways known as "Roman roads." These roads, built with layers of gravel, stones, and mortar, connected major towns and military outposts.


The rise of turnpikes

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, road maintenance and construction deteriorated, resulting in the decline of the Roman road network. In the 17th and 18th centuries, turnpike trusts were established, allowing private investors to finance road improvements in exchange for toll collection. These trusts played a crucial role in improving major routes and enhancing the quality of travel.


The Macadam era

In the late 18th century, John Loudon McAdam revolutionised road construction with his innovative macadam technique. Macadam roads consisted of compacted layers of crushed stone, providing a smoother and more durable surface. McAdam's approach became the standard for road construction, leading to the widespread improvement of roads throughout the UK. The term "macadam" is still used today to describe well-constructed road surfaces.


Victorian innovations

In the 19th century, steam-powered rollers were introduced, enabling more efficient compaction of road surfaces. This technology greatly improved the quality and durability of roads. Invented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1902, tarmacadam (later shortened to tarmac) revolutionised road construction. It involved mixing tar with aggregate materials to create a smooth and durable road surface. Tarmac quickly gained popularity due to its efficiency and cost-effectiveness.


Modern road construction

The Highway Act of 1959 marked a significant milestone in road construction by establishing the modern road classification system and setting standards for highway construction and maintenance. The 20th century witnessed the rapid expansion of motorways, starting with the opening of the Preston Bypass (now part of the M6) in 1958. Motorways, with their controlled access, high-speed limits, and advanced engineering, revolutionised long-distance travel and intercity connectivity.


How roads are made in the UK today

When it comes to modern road construction in the UK, you can expect to observe a specific process adhered to:


Planning and design phase

Before a road project commences, meticulous planning and design are undertaken to ensure its success. This initial phase involves the following key steps:


● Feasibility studies: Feasibility studies are conducted to assess the viability of constructing a new road or improving an existing one. Factors such as traffic flow, environmental impact, and cost-benefit analysis are carefully evaluated.

● Route selection: Once the feasibility of a new road is established, engineers determine the most suitable route. They consider various factors, including proximity to existing infrastructure, environmental impact, and public opinion.

● Engineering design: During this stage, engineers create detailed engineering plans that outline the road's alignment, cross-section, and necessary infrastructure like bridges, tunnels, and drainage systems. These designs ensure the road meets safety standards and efficiently handles expected traffic volumes.


Pre-construction phase

Once the planning and design are finalised, the pre-construction phase begins. This phase involves several preparatory steps:


● Land acquisition: Authorities acquire the necessary land through negotiations or compulsory purchase orders. This ensures the project has sufficient space for road construction and associated infrastructure.

● Environmental impact assessment: An environmental impact assessment is conducted to identify potential ecological and environmental effects of the road project. Measures to mitigate these impacts are devised to minimise harm to local ecosystems.

● Utility relocation: If necessary, utility lines such as water, gas, and electricity are relocated to accommodate the road construction. This ensures uninterrupted service provision during and after the project.


Construction phase:

The construction phase is where the road begins to take shape. It involves an array of tasks that are executed in a precise sequence:


● Clearing and grubbing: Vegetation and topsoil are cleared from the construction area to expose the underlying ground. This process ensures a stable foundation for the road.

● Earthworks: excavation and embankment construction take place to level the road's alignment and create necessary slopes. This involves cutting through hills, filling low-lying areas, and compacting the soil to achieve the desired road profile.

● Sub-base and base course: Layers of crushed stone or asphalt are laid as the sub-base and base course, respectively. These layers provide stability, improve drainage, and enhance load-bearing capacity.

● Pavement construction: The final road surface, known as the pavement, is constructed using asphalt or concrete. This layer is carefully designed to withstand heavy traffic loads, resist weathering, and ensure a smooth driving experience.

● Drainage systems: Roads are equipped with an intricate network of drainage systems to manage surface water runoff. This includes constructing culverts, ditches, and stormwater drains to prevent flooding and maintain road integrity.

● Road markings and signage: Once the road surface is complete, markings for lanes, pedestrian crossings, and signage are added to enhance safety and provide clear guidance for road users.


Post-construction phase:

After the road construction is complete, several activities are carried out to ensure its longevity and functionality:


● Quality assurance: Thorough inspections and quality control measures are conducted to ensure the road meets the required standards. This includes testing materials, assessing pavement thickness, and verifying adherence to design specifications.

● Maintenance and repair: Regular maintenance and repair are essential to preserve the road's integrity. Activities such as crack sealing, pothole patching, and resurfacing are implemented to extend the road's lifespan and ensure optimal performance.

● Monitoring and upgrades: As traffic patterns and demands evolve, authorities continuously monitor road conditions and make necessary upgrades. This may include widening lanes, adding additional infrastructure, or implementing intelligent transportation systems to improve efficiency and safety


The important role of tarmac patch repair

Tarmac patch repair is an efficient and cost-effective solution for addressing localised damage on road surfaces. Through proper preparation, application, and finishing, tarmac patch repairs restore the integrity of the road, ensuring a smooth and safe driving experience.


Identifying the need for patch repair

Localised damage on road surfaces, such as potholes, cracks, or surface degradation, often necessitates tarmac patch repair. These issues can arise due to various factors, including heavy traffic, weather conditions, or underlying structural weaknesses. Regular inspections and maintenance programs help identify areas in need of repair.


Preparation and planning

Before commencing tarmac patch repair, proper preparation and planning are crucial to ensure a successful outcome. This includes assessing the extent of the damage, determining the appropriate repair method, and scheduling the work to minimise disruptions to traffic.


Surface preparation

To achieve a durable and long-lasting patch repair, the damaged area must be properly prepared. This involves cleaning the surface, removing loose debris, and ensuring a stable base. Any loose or damaged tarmac is excavated, and the area is cleaned and levelled to create a solid foundation for the patch.


Tarmac mix preparation

The next step involves preparing the tarmac mix that will be used for the patch repair. The mix typically consists of aggregates, such as crushed stone and sand, combined with bitumen, a sticky black substance derived from crude oil. The proportions of these materials are carefully determined to meet the specific requirements of the repair.


Patch application

Once the tarmac mix is prepared, it is applied to the prepared area using appropriate tools and techniques. The mix is spread evenly, ensuring proper compaction to achieve a strong bond with the existing road surface. Depending on the size and depth of the patch, compaction can be done using hand tools, rollers, or vibrating plates.


Finishing and compaction

After the tarmac patch is applied, it is essential to ensure proper compaction and finishing. This involves using compacting tools to eliminate air voids and achieve a smooth surface. The edges of the patch are tapered to ensure a seamless transition between the repaired area and the surrounding road surface.


Curing and traffic management

Once the tarmac patch repair is complete, it is crucial to allow sufficient time for the patch to cure and harden. This ensures the durability and longevity of the repair. Traffic management measures, such as temporary traffic signals or lane closures, may be implemented during the curing period to protect the repair and ensure the safety of road users.


The benefits of tarmac patch repair

Tarmac patch repair offers many advantages:


● Cost-effective: Tarmac patch repair offers a cost-effective solution for addressing localised damage, minimising the need for extensive road resurfacing.

● Time-efficient: Patch repairs can be completed relatively quickly, reducing disruptions to traffic flow and minimising inconvenience for road users.

● Durability: Tarmac is a durable material that can withstand heavy traffic loads and adverse weather conditions, ensuring the longevity of the repair.

● Smooth and safe driving experience: Tarmac patch repairs result in a smooth road surface, enhancing comfort and safety for drivers and reducing vehicle wear and tear.

● Environmentally friendly: Tarmac patch repair promotes sustainability by utilising recycled materials and reducing the need for new construction materials.


Get in touch with road contractors near you for road repair solutions

Here at Thermal Road Repairs, we have been taking on pothole repair and thermal road repair projects for a decade, so you can rest assured that you’re getting the very best service by choosing us. Our road construction engineers operate throughout the UK, carrying out emergency and regular scheduled maintenance for various clients in both the private and public sectors.


​We can handle a full range of projects, including motorway works, airports, car parks, and services for local authorities. To find out more about the services we provide, contact us today.

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