Argyll and Bute Council is facing a multi-million pound bill to repair the damage caused to its roads by the severe winter weather.
Monitoring work undertaken to date – and the predicted continuation of the cold weather - suggests that the damage is likely to be significantly worse that it was last year.
And the fact that the weather is still wintery in places – with some 10 inches of snow falling in Oban, for instance, last Saturday evening alone - means that it is not always practical (or in some cases even possible) to start repairing much of the damage at this stage.
The roads team has now set down its priorities in terms of tackling the damage. These are to repair any damage causing a road safety issue, to deal with any drainage problems which mean water cannot drain off the road surface and to carry out any repairs which will prevent the acceleration of the road surface deterioration.
Councillor Duncan MacIntyre, spokesperson for transportation and infrastructure, said the situation in Argyll and Bute is similar to that faced by many other councils across Scotland.
“The conditions on our 2,300km roads network over the last few weeks have been some of the most challenging we have ever faced,” he said.
“The heavy snow, ice and intermittent rain have caused significant damage to many roads, with potholes and other surface damage becoming evident on many routes across the area. No type of road has been spared, with both major and minor routes in all areas affected.”
Councillor MacIntyre stressed that while regular monitoring is being carried out, the full extent of the necessary repair work will only become apparent once the conditions stop continuing to cause new damage on a daily basis.
“We are using all available resources to try to repair the worst of the damage on a priority basis, where it is practical to so do. However, our efforts continue to be hampered in some areas by prevailing weather conditions and our commitment to snow and ice clearance.
“We also have to make sure, as far as we can, that any repairs we do carry out are going to withstand whatever the remainder of the winter is likely to throw at them. The continuing weather conditions have had a detrimental effect on our ability to carry out lasting repairs, and we will not blow our budget on work which risks being effectively nothing more than window dressing.”
Argyll and Bute’s roads team is encouraging drivers to report any potholes and other significant road surface damage they become aware of by phoning 0800373635.
However, residents are also being asked to be patient while the council prioritises its repair schedule and, when conditions allow, starts the work in earnest.
Councillor MacIntyre said: “We cannot establish a full picture until the snow, ice and frost has cleared.
“Once we have done that, we will allocate the available resources to ensure that our roads network is made safe as quickly as possible.”
He added that winter weather conditions cause the deterioration of the roads network every year, due to the increase in the water table and the effects of freeze/thaw.
“However, the early onset and prolonged nature of the conditions this year has accelerated the deterioration process on many roads,” Councillor MacIntyre added.
“While we will obviously repair the worst damage as efficiently as practicable, it is likely that this process will continue for the remainder of the winter season and well into the spring as more faults appear and as thaw conditions develop.
“The repairs will be carried out on a strict priority basis. Potholes on high speed routes, for instance, will tend to be filled in before those on more minor roads, where the traffic is not travelling so fast and the risks to both car and driver are therefore not so great.
“The weather conditions we have seen recently are some of the worst experienced in living memory. They have been exceptional – way beyond the normal conditions we expect and plan for.
“Inevitably there will be a strain on resource both in terms of our teams and our finances, but every effort will be made to keep the road network safe for the travelling public.”
In terms of winter maintenance, council teams have been working around the clock to treat roads, clear snow and fill up grit bins since the first frost appeared.
Over the Christmas period the roads team continued a 24 hour service, treating a total of 755 miles of roads in Argyll and Bute the equivalent of 104 times.
The total of 80,600 miles treated during the festive season is the equivalent of travelling more than three times around the world.
The roads team continues to review the situation on a daily basis, and adapt its response accordingly. The council’s first priority remains to keep the major routes safe and traffic flowing around Argyll and Bute.