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Roadworks and air pollution

At the end of January, Oxford City Council announced that it will open the UK’s first Zero Emission Zone on 28 February 2022. All petrol and diesel vehicles, including hybrids, will incur a daily charge.

Although Oxford’s scheme is a trial at this stage and only covers a small number of streets in the city centre, it underlines the concerns of many local authorities over air pollution. London and Birmingham already have ultra-emission zones (ULEZs) and several others are planning to launch them – although some, like Manchester, are facing opposition.

Traffic is the main cause of air pollution in the UK. And it is a killer. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutantshas estimated that it causes between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths every year. In 2020, coroners agreed that excessive air pollution had contributed to the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who lived near the South Circular in London and suffered from severe asthma.

For smaller towns and urban areas, low emission zones are probably not a practical solution. Instead, councils are looking at other ways to reduce emissions, such as active travel schemes to encourage people to leave their vehicles at home. The conundrum is that, if active travel routes run alongside congested roads, health risks can be increased rather than decreased.

Roadworks can – and do – add to air pollution. They increase congestion by slowing down or stopping traffic; they can increase the number of vehicles on the road, requiring lorries to take away waste materials and bring in new material; and, if repairs are not long-lasting, that cycle of disruption begins all over again after six months or a year.

Thermal Road Repairs’ (TRR) primary aim in designing its system was to deliver ‘permanent’ pothole, joint and defect repairs. However, in doing so, it also created a faster, cleaner method too.

The TRR system heats the material in and around a pothole, crack or defect and then adds a small amount of hot top-up material to fill the void. New and old are mixed and, because it is hot, the bitumen binder around the aggregates in the pothole and surrounding road surface blends together – so there are no cracks or weak points.

From an air quality perspective, the TRR system totally negates the need for additional vehicle movements to take away failed material and bring in new material and it reduces traffic congestion around the works due to its speed. There is just one unit which carries the small amount of top-up materials in an on-board hot box. Dust is removed from the process too because there is no grinding or jack hammering required to remove material before the repair.

Roadworks such as pothole repair can feel like a necessary evil: we need to fix potholes and defects in our roads and pavements to make them safer and more comfortable to use, but in doing so we can create more air pollution problems. Alongside longevity, carbon footprint, capital cost and speed of repair, air quality issues should be factored into choosing the best solutions.

Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.

High output. Low emission. Permanent solution.

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