Highway Maintenance

Potholes - your questions answered

Here are answers to the questions that we are asked most often about potholes.

Are there more potholes in Hampshire over winter months?

Yes, more potholes do form over winter because of the effects of rain, frost, snow, and ice.

Potholes and road defects are created by water getting into the surface of the road through cracks usually caused by traffic.

When temperatures drop, the water freezes and expands, causing the surface to break up.  When the ice melts it leaves a space below the surface, which collapses under the weight of traffic and eventually forms a pothole.  The repeated freeze-thaw effect in severe winters makes more potholes form, and it makes them form more quickly.

How do we decide which potholes to fix first?

Safety is always the priority.  When it is not possible to carry out immediate repairs because of other hazards or long term flooding, we may use temporary signs and barriers to divert vehicles around the defect.  Highways engineers inspect each defect and decide which ones need to be treated as a priority.  Highways defects fall into one of the following categories:

Emergency defects which are made safe within two hours – these repairs may be temporary to make the road safe with permanent repairs being made later.

Defects which are not emergencies become part of the maintenance programme and are repaired within two months.

Larger or more complex works (such as major resurfacing of roads or pavements) are generally scheduled separately.

What is the difference between a temporary and a permanent repair?

A typical permanent repair would see a rectangular area cut out of the road around the pothole with a diamond bladed saw giving the repair clean, flush sides. The hole is cleaned out and painted with liquid bituminous binder. The hole is then filled with a hot bitumen-bound material which is raked and finally compacted mechanically.

A temporary repair is a short term measure to make the road safe which involves using a deferred set cold material to fill the hole until a permanent repair can take place

Are temporary repairs a false economy?

Emergency repairs may be temporary until a permanent repair can be carried out  but this is not a false economy. The important thing is to make the road safe for users until the permanent repair can be made.

How long does it take to fix a pothole?

This depends on the size and nature of the pothole or defect.  

How do you know where the worst ones are?

All highways are inspected for safety defects and the frequency of these depends on a number of factors, such as how much the road is used. Of course it is possible for pot hole defects to occur between inspections and reports from the public are very helpful  so that we can prioritise these and deal with the defects.

How do I report a pothole?  Will you come and fix it?  

The most efficient way for residents to report a pothole or road defect to Hampshire County Council is via the fault report forms:

These reports then go directly to the area where they can be assessed and dealt with and residents can track progress online.  

Residents who do not have access to the internet can call in with a pothole report to: 0845 603 5633.

If I drive into a pothole can I claim compensation?

Drivers' frustration if their cars suffer damage during the course of a journey is completely understandable but the County Council does not pay out compensation automatically.  Every claim is investigated and assessed.

Decisions on claims are made on the basis of the what the County Council considers its legal liability to be, and we will defend claims when we take the view that we the County Council to be liable in the circumstances of the case.

However, if we accept liability, or when the court upholds a claim, then claims will be settled promptly.

Is it true that you spend more on compensation claims than fixing the roads themselves?

No, not by a long way.  For example, the annual highways maintenance budget for 2008/2009 was £58 million (which includes all aspects of highways and footways maintenance including fixing potholes, resurfacing, cutting back overgrown vegetation and maintaining pavements among other aspects of work) and the total paid out in claims was £97,562  for damage caused to vehicles from road defects, including potholes.

What is the difference between a pothole and an edge defect?

Potholes form when the road surface breaks up to expose the layers beneath. Traffic is one factor but the main cause is water freezing and thawing during the winter. Although road and footway surfaces are all porous, water builds up on the surface. This creates pressure and results in holes forming from below. Potholes do not mean that there is a problem with the road construction, but if they’re not repaired the surface will get progressively worse.

Edge defects are different from potholes because they’re caused by vehicles driving on the edge of the road and damaging the surface. The edge (or haunch) is the most vulnerable part of the road as it gets the highest variation in traffic weight and water, as well as reduced support due to the softer verge. Edge defects are most common in rural areas of the county.