The organisation in charge of England’s motorways and major A-roads has started using a new resurfacing material that acts like an “anti-ageing” cream for roads. The new asphalt mix is designed to be more resilient than traditional road surfaces thanks to its improved flexibility.
Government-run company Highways England says it normally expects motorways and major A-roads to be resurfaced every 10-12 years because the elements and the weight of heavy traffic cause the surface to deteriorate and crack. However, with the new asphalt mix spread across the surface, laboratory tests suggest the road surface’s life can be extended without the need for remedial work.
The new mix, which uses a kind of bitumen called Styrelf Long Life, has been used to resurface a busy section of the A43 near Silverstone, in Northamptonshire. Not only does Highways England expect the new surface to require less maintenance, improving journey times for motorists and reducing costs for the company, but it also predicts the road surface will have less environmental impact.
According to petrochemical firm Total, getting the asphalt required to resurface a mile of single lane carriageway – not including the effects of transporting and working with the substance – can produce up to 26.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide. However, if the roads lasted longer, so two resurfacing operations could be avoided every 60 years, Total says the reduction in asphalt production alone could save the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by an average car over the course of 270,000 miles.
Despite these apparent advantages, the new asphalt mix has only been tested in lab conditions and sections of road in the Netherlands and Germany. The A43 resurfacing is the first use of this asphalt in the UK, and Total’s experts will monitor the surface’s resilience before its use is considered in other parts of the UK.
“What we have in this case is essentially an anti-ageing cream for roads,” explained Brian Kent, the technical director at Highways England’s partner firm Tarmac. “Just as these products are designed to reduce and prevent the signs of fine lines and overall ageing of the skin, the new bitumen being trialled on the A43 will protect the road surface.
It not only has the potential to offer improved value for money to the public purse, but it also contains properties to increase the overall lifespan of roads. Through preventing cracks to the surface of the road caused by elements such as air and water, the longer life bitumen has the ability to reduce disruption, deliver long-term carbon savings and importantly help network operators to better manage their assets.”