The road to resilience: new bitumen set to extend the life of the UK’s highways

Local roads are the lifeblood of the UK’s economy and on their own represent an asset worth over £400 billion – and yet the socio-economic importance of having a high-quality, well-maintained local road network is often underestimated.

Faced with years of funding restrictions, councils have favoured ‘patch and mend’ solutions that do not provide the lasting repair that is needed to maintain the safety and integrity of local roads.

Highways that are affected by potholes are often a symptom of an underlying structural problem which cannot be ‘fixed’ by filling in the hole – which acts as little more than wallpaper over a systemic crack.

Increasingly, highways authorities are looking for new solutions that are not only more durable and require fewer repairs, but that can also provide cost savings and environmental benefits from reducing the carbon emissions associated with maintenance work.

Working in partnership with Shell, Tarmac was recently involved in a trial of a new type of bitumen – the binder that holds an asphalt mix together – called AgeSafe. Specially designed to resist ageing due to oxidation, which is the key factor leading to the hardening of bitumen that ultimately leads to pavement failure, AgeSafe is ideal for all types of roads, but particularly relevant where public disruption or high intervention costs are a primary consideration.

Over 200 tonnes of material containing the innovative bitumen was recently laid by the partners on a section of road in Northamptonshire. The performance of the new surface is being carefully monitoring and data from the trial is set to reveal what can be achieved in terms of extending the lifetime of an asphalt pavement.

Brian Kent, national technical director at Tarmac, discussed the company’s role in the project and its potential benefits for the UK’s roads on the award-winning Engineering Matters podcast – the podcast all about engineers and the problems they have to solve to improve our world.

Produced in association with Shell Bitumen, the full episode is available on all major podcast platforms and can be accessed online here.

As the UK’s leading supplier of highways surfacing, Tarmac operates a fleet of 124 surfacing and planing machines which lay around 3.5 million tonnes of asphalt each year – to find out more click here.