The Gravel Trap – Are Southampton’s roads REALLY getting better?!

In light of the recent, albeit brief, focus on the roads due to the Olympic lanes in London, I decided it was time to talk about the roads in our […]

In light of the recent, albeit brief, focus on the roads due to the Olympic lanes in London, I decided it was time to talk about the roads in our own fair city.

Southampton is a city of cutting corners. There are no two ways about it – the Council will spend as little as possible to maintain a minimum standard as they see fit, and no more.

I understand that we’re in tough times, and tough times means tight spending, but there are some things that cannot be ignored. Even as a pedestrian, it doesn’t take more than a glance to notice that the roads in Southampton are in an appalling state, especially if you’re near the new Sainsbury’s with its flat, new tarmacked junctions.

So, to their credit, Southampton City Council decided to resurface some roads. A few areas of Southampton now have new blacktop, with crisp lines and a flat surface. But because resurfacing roads is expensive, and the Council seem to think it’s not always worth it.

A great number of roads, in ever-increasing numbers, have had a new surface put down. However, it has been done using as few resources as possible, in the fastest time possible, and then seemingly abandoned.

Near where I live, there are huge stretches of road where the surface has been overlaid with glue, and then dumped with gravel. Then the workers have packed up and gone home, leaving only “loose surface, 20MPH” and “No Road Markings” signs behind.

There is no sign they’re coming back to flatten the surface, remove loose gravel, paint the road lines, or do anything else to counter their quick and dirty job. As a motorcyclist, this is particularly terrifying, because if you’ve ever ridden a bicycle on gravel… Well, it’s a lot scarier with an engine.

The “gravel fix” also fails to deal with a particularly significant problem in the roads – uneven surfaces. By simply dumping gravel over the existing roads, the soft, worn tarmac underneath which has sunk into the ground is still worn, and sunk into the ground.

Only now, all the drain covers are also in holes, since the gravel doesn’t stick to the drains, making them lower than road level, and if they’ve sunk too? Well then, I hope your suspension is good, because you’re in for a bumpy ride.

The particular reason I find this a terrible idea is not because it doesn’t fix uneven roads, or because there are no road markings, or because the surface is a loose gravel track. Mostly, I find it a terrible idea because in two years, the council will need to rip up those roads, replace the entire thing, fix the sagged tarmac and drains, and will have spent I-don’t-know-how-much on this “gravel fix” which is a completely false economy and actually, right now, downright dangerous.

In a quote provided to The Tab, Southampton City Council defended their use of surface dressing:

Surface dressing is an extremely cost effective way of maintaining a road. It restores skidding resistance and seals the road surface to prevent water ingress… The technique is widely used by the majority of highway authorities throughout the UK, including our neighbours in Hampshire County Council.

There’s cutting corners, then there’s this. I now avoid all the gravelled roads, meaning to get to Portswood, I have to go a completely different route. And there’s no sign of the roads ever being finished. They’ve taken the neglected roads of Southampton and made them much, much worse.