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Friday, 25 April 2014

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Warming up for some winter action on our roads

LOUISE Hayward keeps a weather eye on the skies and a keen ear on radio and TV reports. So far this winter, thankfully, it’s been easy listening.

For Louise is the highways and neighbourhood area manager for Northumberland County Council, responsible for ensuring Tynedale’s road remain open and safe to travel on should snow and ice descend.

At her disposal and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, is a team with snow clearing vehicles and thousands of tons of grit at their disposal.

They have been on standby since early November, but thus far have remained largely inactive.

The last three winter have arrived early, with each November seeing prolonged bouts of snow and freezing temperatures.

There has been criticism of the snow-clearing operations, particularly during heavy snow storms in November 2010. But Louise insists lessons have been learned.

“It’s a challenging county because of its size and the fact some areas are 2,000ft above sea level,” she explains.

“We plan as well as we can, but it’s difficult. You have no idea what the weather is going to throw at you. It’s difficult because the weather doesn’t do what it’s told.”

Having almost run out of supplies in 2010, the council has ensured there are always sufficient stockpiles of grit to call upon.

Over 36,000 tonnes has been distributed to depots across the county. Grit bins have been filled and roadside grit piles put out over the last two months.

A fleet of 28 highways gritting vehicles have been primed for action since the end of October. Also on stand-by are local farmers, ready to be called into use as snowplough contractors.

Grass cutters are converted into snowploughs and gritters for winter use.

Louise and other managers will sift through the latest forecasts and updates from the Met Office before deciding when and where to call out teams.

Team members on the ground also judge which areas are likely to be the worst affected.

“We rely on the feedback from our contractors and staff on the ground. We have the local knowledge from the guys who have been here for years and pull on that,” says Louise.

“We target our resources wherever necessary. If it’s really bad in the west then we will divert resources from the north or south.”

In a new development this year, the highways department has teamed up with county’s fire and rescue service to adapt two of its vehicles with snowploughs and spreaders to use in towns and larger villages in emergencies.”

Until the snow storms strike, it remains to be seen how the best-laid plans will work in reality.

“The national media always play up to rumours of a winter Armageddon, but we haven’t seen a forecast of anything like that yet,” adds Louise.

“We’ve had a great start to the winters, and fingers crossed it continues like that.”

With the worst that winter can bring still in abeyance, the highways team continues to turn its energies to the perennial problem of potholes.

Louise insists this winter’s fair weather window is enabling the council to eat into its backlog of repairs.

Two pairs of new machines – a Jetpatcher and Roadmender – have been brought into the county to tackle potholes.

The Jetpatcher blasts an asphalt and tar mix into potholes, ensuring a more permanent repair, while the Roadmender can transport three tons of hot asphalt around the county, compared to the half ton loads previously used.

“This year we will be taking a two pronged approach and trying something a little different,” Louise explains.

“We have diverted resources normally used for horticultural work to dig out ditches and drainage to stop run off from fields flooding roads, which often leads to potholes.

“Secondly, we are taking the new machines out and going into parishes to try and get at all the potholes fixed.

“It will take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we want to get on top of the backlog.

“This is really exciting for us because it’s an opportunity to start to make a noticeable difference.”


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