As councils around the UK assess the damage to their road networks following the coldest December on record, some must be wondering whether to stick or twist.
If they fix the roads this early in the winter there is a real possibility that another cold snap will create the type of conditions that did the original damage, undoing all their good – and expensive – repair work.
On the other hand, if they decide to wait until the winter weather is behind us, they risk incurring the wrath of road users who will remain vulnerable to damaged wheels, tyres and – especially in the case of cyclists – bodies. And that damage can, tragically, be a lot more than skinned knees and elbows.
Last year in Wiltshire an army officer, Captain Jonathan Allen, was killed when he was hit by a lorry after apparently swerving to avoid a massive pothole, described afterwards as “more like a trench.”
To complicate matters further, increasingly in modern Britain the fear of compensation claims is affecting decisions by bodies such as councils about when and where to spend their cash.
And all this comes at a time when council budgets are being cut to the bone. Councils will not know the total bill for repairs until the worst of the winter weather has passed, but the estimates are that the total bill is likely to exceed that caused by the wintry weather which gripped Britain early last year.
In Wales the Assembly Government has already announced a communal £7m pot for grit and pothole repairs which is available for Welsh councils to dip into. In the Welsh county of Conwy, Stuart Davies, head of the council’s highways and infrastructures, told the Daily Post newspaper that in terms of a repair bill, there was, “no figure but the surface and structure of many roads will be affected by the freezing conditions”.
And when questioned about whether the repair bill for this winter will be greater than that for last, he said: “It is impossible to say at this stage but it is certain that there will be considerable damage to the highway network due to the severity of the winter up until now.”
That uncertainty about repair costs is no doubt representative of the headaches being suffered by councils up and down the country and with another cold snap just about to begin, there may well be yet more damage, more expense and potentially more compensation claims on the way.
Meanwhile the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which also embraces cyclists these days, is calling for duty from fuel and the extra money raised from the VAT increase to be earmarked for road repairs and road safety measures.
Every year, the Institute says, the government raises more than £25billion in fuel tax and £13billion in VAT from road users. It makes long-term economic sense, says the IAM, to keep investing in better roads now to save even higher bills in the future.
As for the here and now, the CTC has launched an iPhone App to report potholes to www.fillthathole.org.uk. As cyclists, it is in our own self-interest to be pro-active on the issue of pothole notification. After all, just as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so the reported pothole gets the repair.