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Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Is the Jetpatcher a solution to our pothole nightmare?

Jetpatchers at work
Jetpatchers at work: One person to drive it and one to fill the potholes

A winter of freeze-thaw-freeze has left the UK's roads riddled with 1.6 million new potholes. Now councils are turning to a new piece of kit to quickly repair pockmarked roads - a Jetpatcher machine.

Car passes a pothole in Bristol
Road users beware

Suspension-jarring, bike-toppling, ankle-turning potholes are the bane of road users and local authorities alike.

And this winter's big chill has cracked and crumbled highways and byways to such an extent that the AA reports pothole-related claims are up 400%, and councils are throwing money at their ravaged roads.

A number have turned to a £140,000 patching lorry with which one operator can fill one pothole in about five minutes for £60 - a fraction of the time it takes a repair gang to do the job manually.

In favourable conditions - neither too wet nor too icy - it can fix hundreds of potholes a week, says a spokeswoman for Hampshire County Council, which has been using a leased machine since early February as part of its boosted Pothole Busters programme.

The Jetpatcher is mainly deployed to repair rural roads with many minor potholes close together, and to smooth damaged verges, she says. More major potholes are repaired manually.

About 50 are now in use throughout Britain, from Jetpatcher UK or Sunderland-based Velocity UK. Argyll and Bute, Aberdeen, York and Liverpool are among the councils to buy or hire the machines.

How the Jetpatcher works

"A high majority of Scottish councils have bought or leased one. We've had a lot of enquiries in England. And a lot of councils in Wales are already using Jetpatchers," says a spokesman for Jetpatcher UK.

Gang repairing potholes
Repairing a pothole manually

The traditional method of repair involves a gang of up to five people kitted out with shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows, and a lorry-load of asphalt. They clear and fill the holes, then use a roller or whacker to smooth the surface.

Sometimes the crew needs to dig out the damaged road surface before filling begins. And the patch may need to dry overnight before a layer of micro-asphalt can be laid on top, says a spokeswoman for Hull City Council.

The Jetpatcher does all this in one smooth operation, then moves on to the next pothole as traffic resumes its path over the newly repaired road.

But as with manual repairs, the machine is rather stymied by the weather. Too cold and/or too wet, and the asphalt will not set properly. This can allow more water to seep into the roadway, and the whole vicious circle starts again.

Potholes are formed by water seeping through cracks in the asphalt surface of a road. When temperatures plunge, the water freezes, expands and causes the road surface to rupture. The ice then melts, leaving a space below the surface, which caves in under the stress of vehicles and eventually forms a pothole.

Nationally, there are an estimated 1.6 million new potholes due to the icy spell, and the Local Government Association says the repair bill will be about £100m this year.

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