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Surface dressings down, potholes up

saving money using a piggy bank

Last week the RAC published an analysis of government data that showed that the amount of surface dressing undertaken by 153 road authorities in England had fallen by 34% in 2021/2022, compared to 2017/2018, down to 3,551 miles. The analysis also showed that the length of road resurfacing had fallen too, down 29% compared to 2017/2018, to 1,123 miles.

Resurfacing involves removing the top layer – sometimes called the wearing course – of the road and replacing it with a new one. Surface dressing sees a bitumen binder sprayed onto the road and stone chippings then spread on top.

The great thing about surface dressing and other similar treatments is that they prolong the life of a road. Cracks that could turn into potholes over time are filled in, surface friction is improved and an extra layer of protection is added.

According to the Road Surface Treatment Association (RTSA), it costs £5 per square metre to surface dress a heavily trafficked A or B road compared to £30 per square metre for conventional asphalt resurfacing. And from a whole-life perspective, regular surface treatment can save two-thirds of the cost on a 60-year life cycle for heavily trafficked roads and 90 years for lightly trafficked roads, says the RTSA.

Surface treatments make sense from a carbon perspective too. The RTSA says that surface dressings can save 75% of carbon emissions over a 60-to-90-year lifecycle. (Carbon emissions for various surface treatment and other repair methods can be found in the RTSA’s guide).

The challenge, of course, for authorities is that their meagre funds must be directed to fire-fighting – fixing potholes – rather than preventative measures. The RAC’s research revealed that 31% of the highway authorities included in the latest data (2021-2022) did no resurfacing in 2021/2022 while 51% carried out no surface dressing.

The RAC’s head of policy Simon Williams suggests that Government funding to fix potholes without funding for ongoing maintenance and preservation is almost throwing good money after bad: “While the Government has made more money available to authorities to fill potholes, it’s the general reduction in road improvement work that’s causing potholes to appear in the first place.

“The fact that such a large proportion haven’t done any surface dressing or resurfacing at all over a 12-month period really does say it all,” he says in a press release.

Thermal Road Repairs’ goal in developing its low-carbon pothole-fixing technology was to create a repair that would be done once and done for good. Spending precious funds to repeatedly fix the same pothole as it reforms over and over does not make good sense. We would urge highways authorities to assess the longevity of different pothole repair techniques and make decisions accordingly.

It is also worth considering that surface treatments can fail if applied over some types of pothole repair. Choosing a method such as Thermal Road Repairs, where there is no joint between old and new material, means that there is no residual weak point that can then go on to fail.


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. It invests significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve existing ones.

Thermal Road Repairs: Decarbonising the asphalt repair industry.

High output. Low emission. Zero waste. Permanent solution.



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