All you ever wanted to know

When we talk to residents, they tell us that good quality and safe roads are an important part of what they want their Council to deliver and invest in. This is the responsibility of our highways teams, and they have a big job to do.

Our highways in numbers

  • 1,454km of roads
  • 1,944 km of footways
  • 150km of cycle lanes and tracks
  • 521km of footpaths and bridleways
  • 230 bridges and structures
  • 227 traffic signal junctions and crossings
  • 18,000 traffic signs
  • 46,500 streetlights and illuminated signs
  • 62,000 gullies (drains)

Here's all you ever wanted to know about potholes, gritting, and road surfacing:


What is grit?

Rock salt (sodium chloride) is often referred to as grit. It is crushed into small pieces to be able to spread on the road surface.

What does it do?

The grit works by dissolving into a solution, lowering the freezing temperature of water, which prevents ice or frost forming on the road.

How does it work on ice?

For salt to work effectively it needs to be in a solution, so when you put salt onto ice that has already formed (it actually needs some moisture to start working) it takes longer to get to work on the ice to start lowering its freezing temperature and turning it back into water.

How does it work on snow?

It works in the same way as with ice, but simply putting salt on snow won't make it magically turn into water - it needs the action of traffic to mix the salt in and allow it to turn into a solution to start the cycle of lowering the freezing point and turning the snow back into water.

For grit to work most effectively it needs traffic to crush and spread it across the road. When it snows heavily at night, though a road is gritted, the snow will often still settle.

How do we decide when to grit?

We receive a specialised highway-focussed weather forecast every day and specially trained officers monitor the road surface temperature to determine whether to grit, which priority routes to grit and the optimum time to act.

How do we decide where to grit?

Our priority gritting routes are used by 90% of the district's traffic. 'Precautionary' (before the frost, ice, snow is formed) treatment is carried out on A and B roads, commuter routes, steep main roads to villages, housing or industrial estates, including roads leading to main hospitals and large schools.

A map of our priority gritting routes is available here.

What happens in heavy snow events?

In continuous or excessive snow conditions, the gritting teams will plough the routes as well but this may mean the routes take longer to complete. In extreme situations, priority will be given to the main roads only and then extended to the remaining priority routes when resources are available.

When is the best time to grit?

Roads are treated with salt before the road surface temperature reaches zero degrees Celsius. In doing so, and once in solution, the salt lowers the temperature of any water present and stops it freezing.

When not to grit?

Difficulties can arise when rain is forecast to continue right up to the time of freezing or when the rain is forecast to turn to snow. When this happens, the gritters wait until the rain has stopped or the salt will be washed away.

How can you help us?

Please make sure your vehicle is parked in a safe place and not restricting access for our gritting vehicles. And please remember that when the vehicles are fitted with snow ploughs they need extra room to be able to access residential roads.

Residents can also volunteer to be Snow Wardens to clear pavements and local streets to help their neighbours and more vulnerable citizens who can't help themselves.

As a Snow Warden you will be equipped with a snow shovel, a fluorescent Snow Warden tabard and gloves and have access to salt.

What else do we do?

We have experts monitoring the weather and road conditions around the clock through winter months.

We also stock 340 grit bins throughout the district. The grit bins allow residents to treat the roads and footways in extreme winter weather.

Our gritting operations – the facts

  • 14 spreading vehicles
  • 22 drivers who work in rotas to provide 24 hour cover
  • 553 km of priority gritting route
  • Takes 2-3 hours for 12 spreading vehicles to treat the priority routes
  • 61 tonnes of grit used for each full treatment of all the priority routes
  • 4500 tonnes of salt in stock

How are potholes created?

Water sinks through cracks in the old or weakened road surface which is then soaked up by the road bed under the surface. In the winter months the repeated freezing and thawing of the water helps to break up the road surface especially where it is already weakened.

The traffic moving over this fragile surface pushes the water through the saturated roadbed causing it to weaken and parts of asphalt begin to sink into the eroded parts underneath.

As vehicles continue to pass over the surface it eventually cracks, parts of the asphalt become loosened and a pothole is formed.

How do you repair a potholes?

It depends on the size of the pothole, the type of road and the danger that the pothole poses to road users. Wakefield Council has adopted the national 'Well Managed Highway Infrastructure – Code of Practice' which advocates a risk based approach to highway asset management.

Here are some of the methods that we use to repair potholes:

Temporary repair

For certain locations only a temporary repair is possible to make a pothole safe until a planned permanent repair can be made. In these cases a cold mix of bitumen and chippings is used to fill the hole. This is then smoothed over and compacted.

Cut out and fill

A shape is cut around the pothole using an asphalt saw. The damaged asphalt surface is removed and a hot mix of bitumen and chippings is added to the cut out area. This is then smoothed over and compacted using a whacker machine.

How quickly is a pothole repaired?

If after a visual risk assessment the pothole meets our emergency criteria, then it will be scheduled in for a repair within 24 hours. If it is not considered an emergency then we will schedule a repair for later on and if we have several defects on one road it is more cost effective to do them all in a single visit. We also need to coordinate these repairs with other planned road works or activities being carried out by the Council or other organisations such as utility companies.

How much does it cost to fill potholes?

There isn't one cost per pothole. They appear on all types of road in different shapes and sizes. Repairing potholes on busy roads for example requires a lot of planning and we may need to close roads or use temporary traffic lights to do the work safely. All this is very costly and we have a limited budget that we want to stretch as far as possible. This is why we have to use a 'risk' based matrix to tackle the defects that are more of a safety issue and to use our resources as effectively as possible.

Isn't it cheaper in the long run to do proper repairs rather than temporary ones?

Sometimes we don't have enough time to plan and complete a permanent repair on a pothole as it may need filling quickly to keep the road safe and to prevent injuries or accidents. The pothole could also be part of an underlying issue with the road surface underneath that requires a more extensive repair.

The weather can have a serious effect on when and how we carry out repairs; we can't use some materials in cold weather for instance. Potholes tend to form mainly during the cold and wet months of the year - the worst conditions to carry out road repairs.

Why can't you just resurface the roads and stop potholes from forming in the first place?

We have over 1,454km of roads across Wakefield District that we are responsible for, in addition to 1,944km of footways and other highway assets such as bridges, street lighting, traffic lights and signage. Potholes are forming all of the time as the road surface deteriorates with usage and with the effects of weather.

Even if we had the funding to resurface everywhere, we would not be able to disrupt the whole network at once and still maintain access for residents, commuters, emergency services, buses and freight.

Wakefield Council has produced a Highways Asset Management Strategy to provide more information on the approach to surfacing site selection.


Surface dressing remains the most cost effect solution in the road maintenance industry and as the process is quick, does not include the removal and disposal of existing surface materials, nor the reintroduction of new bituminous material it is considered more ‘environmentally friendly’ as compared to traditional plane and surface techniques.

The process seals the surface(preventing further potholing) and improves the skidding properties significantly. It is key to Wakefield maintaining its roads both structurally and in a safe manner.


The roads are assessed to ensure they are right for this treatment and the contractors design the chipping size and specification based on the classification, volume of traffic and speed – single dressing/dual dressing/racked in/binder type and rate. If the road has deteriorated beyond what we believe is suitable for dressing then dressing will not be used.

The roads selected are pre patched and potholes repaired before the dressing is applied if necessary.


The roads are swept after the initial application within 24 hrs and then again within 14 days.

Advanced warning signs are placed on site and diversion routes signed if required.

Advisory speed limits of 20 mph are also signed.


It is noted that a small number of complaints are generated annual as a result of this programme but that is replicated nationally.


The contractor is responsible for masking the gullies and clearing any materials that do gain access – again this is monitored.

Operationally the performance of the contractors is monitored and reported to the YHA framework manager. Internally we have a dedicated resource assigned to this contract.