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Gritting FAQs

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How many gritters does the county council have and how much grit can they spread?

Cumbria Highways has a fleet of 30 vehicles capable of gritting roads. The capacity of salt these vehicles can carry varies between 6 and 10 tonnes. One full county-wide grit run of the priority one and two routes uses around 300 tonnes of salt, with the gritters travelling a distance equal to driving from Penrith to Barcelona.

How does the gritting process work?

We use six-millimetre crushed rock salt to melt ice or prevent it from forming on the roads. Usually, this is spread onto the road using a purpose-built machine, mounted on a wagon. The spreaders are designed to give an even distribution of salt across the road and spread the salt at a controlled rate. To prevent ice from forming, we spread salt at 10-15 grams per square metre. But more is needed to melt ice which has already formed and the rate of spread is increased to 20-40 grams per square metre to achieve this. The wagons also have fittings which enable a snowplough to be fitted when needed.

Are the gritters ready for use?        

Yes - they were serviced, tested and calibrated before the start of the winter.

What is our policy for gritting priority routes?

Priority routes are the most important for road users and are used by people travelling for business, leisure, recreational, educational and domestic purposes. In other words priority routes are chosen to maintain transport connections for as many communities as possible and are given priority over other more minor routes.

The treatment times adopted by the county council are three hours and five hours for first and second priority roads respectively. This is achieved by ensuring that the first priority roads are treated early in the gritters’ pre-determined route.

The Priority 3 Roads include bus and commuter routes in the urban areas and access to villages in rural areas. They are treated only after the Priority 1 and 2 Roads are clear, during daytime hours or when there is sufficient time at the end of the night's work and before the normal working day begins, and only when a prolonged period of bad weather is forecast, normally of at least 72 hours duration.

Has the network of first and second priority treated roads been increased for 2012/13 winter? 

Up to another 85kms of regular frequent bus routes are to be added to the priority routes. Other improvements will result in all schools being served by at least a priority 3 route and no roads being excluded from some level of priority, depending on the level of commitment and weather conditions.

Does the county council salt pavements?

Cumbria Highways salts pavements in the main shopping and busier urban areas of towns around the county where there are higher volumes of pedestrians.

With thousands of miles of pavements in Cumbria salting every single one is simply not feasible – our efforts have to be concentrated on areas that will benefit the most people.

In Carlisle, the city council treats pedestrianised areas and some pavements, as part of its claimed highways maintenance rights, taking on responsibility for salting on behalf of the county council.

Can it get too cold for salt to work?

Yes. Salt will work at temperatures down to minus 8-10C. Below that salted roads will still freeze.

Salt works by lowering the temperature at which water freezes. It relies on the action of vehicle tyres to be spread over the road and mix the salt in with the snow and ice, so requires traffic to be effective. 

Which agencies are responsible for winter roads maintenance in Cumbria?

Almost the entire road network in Cumbria is looked after by Highways. 

Carlisle City Council treats certain bus routes and unclassified roads in Carlisle as part of its claimed maintenance rights, taking on responsibility for gritting on behalf of the county council.

The Highways Agency is responsible for gritting motorway and trunk roads – the M6, A66, A69, the majority of the A590, and the A595 from the A66 to Calder Bridge.

Why aren’t all rural schools routes gritted?

Many rural primary schools are not located on treated routes and there are frequent requests from parents, parish councils and school staff to treat outside these schools and often to treat inter-village roads that serve the schools. 

While it can be seen as desirable to treat such roads, there would be considerable resource implications if these roads were to be treated. 

Treating all such roads would exceed the allocated winter maintenance budget. Our current practice is to site a salt bin nearby and to provide salt heaps and / or bins on untreated rural roads. This is considered to be the most appropriate method for dealing with this issue.

Why aren’t all routes leading to and from doctors’ surgeries gritted?

There are frequent requests and queries about the treatment of roads leading to doctors' surgeries. Routes are prioritised on the basis of the volume of traffic and the majority of hospitals are on treated roads.

Changes in the provision of health care have resulted in more service providers and these are not necessarily situated in urban areas or on main traffic routes.

Treating all such routes would divert resources and have an adverse effect on the provision of the service on other routes that carry more traffic. There would be a significant impact on budget provision because of the need for additional resources. However we will keep these requests under review.

Do you grit roads which are bus routes?     

Most service bus routes are treated but not all school bus routes can be covered - there are simply too many of them, particularly in rural areas.

What can people do for themselves?

We provide around 10,000 grit bins and salt heaps throughout the county on routes that aren’t routinely treated – particularly in rural areas. This allows people to spread salt themselves on local pavements and country roads.

This salt should not be used for private driveways or paths as this is not part of the public highway.

Salt heaps and bins are provided at specific locations such as steep gradients and bends, and outside schools. This enables members of the public to treat sections of road that would otherwise not be treated.

In recent years only those salt heaps and bins which were used regularly were replenished before the winter season commenced. This helped to reduce costs and in recent mild winters this was adequate. However, all heaps and bins were refilled before this winter season.

Are the salt heaps and bins topped up?

Yes. The heaps and bins were topped up before the start of the cold season. Topping up will continue as the winter progresses. If parishes or districts notice an empty heap or bin please report it to the Highways Hotline (0845 609 6 609)

Will the county council be offering to provide salt to the Parishes as it did during 2009/10 winter?

We have offered to supply salt / grit mix to parishes as a response to the current spell of extreme weather and this has been well received. We will continue to monitor the weather conditions and may repeat this in the future subject to the conditions at the time.

Is the council willing to supply parishes with pedestrian operated salt spreaders?

Parishes should fund the purchase of any equipment that they wish to use. We have obtained a price for these, but there is no financial advantage. Consequently it will be better if Parishes go directly to the suppliers (Glasdon and Machine Mart are two suppliers who can provide this sort of equipment).

Is there scope for parishes and other interested groups to provide snow clearance on a localised basis?         

We are working on a pilot scheme with one Community Interest Company to test and evaluate this approach. If this proves to be successful, it may be expanded in subsequent winters. However, there has been a long accepted practice where local people (particularly farmers) have cleared snow on local roads.

How do you envisage the expansion of such a scheme?     

The parish or community group will have to enter into an agreement with the county council, setting out the terms under which the group or parish will operate. This will include insurance and indemnity requirements, agreements on the roads to be treated, protocols governing when the work should take place, and payment terms.

Will the district councils be able to assist with snow and ice clearance work?.     

In previous years, the district councils have been helpful in assisting with the winter service, particularly in built-up areas. All of the district councils as well as the parish councils have been offered a supply of salt for use on the public roads.

Can contractors carry out snow clearance and gritting work.

Yes - we already use tractors provided by external contractors with gritters to provide this service on four of the routes in South Lakeland. These are subcontractors to our main contractor, Amey. They operate under the instruction and management of Amey.  There are no other contractors directly engaged by the council, but Amey engage other local contractors and plant hire companies to assist Cumbria Highways with this work.

Some county councils have arrangements with farmers and plant hire companies to engage their services at short notice for snow clearance work. Does Cumbria do this?    

The county council does not engage these services directly.

Can I remove ice from the road outside my house/business?        

Yes - please do so.

Can I order a grit bin if there is not one nearby? (and who pays?)            

You may request a grit bin but Cumbria Highways will make the decision on whether or not to provide it. It will usually be funded from winter maintenance budget by the county council.

I am worried in case someone is injured on a road or footway from which I have cleared snow or gritted. Can I be sued because of this?

This is unlikely, so long as you have been sensible with what you have done. For example, clearing snow away with water would not be regarded as sensible, because the water would freeze and make things worse. Clearing snow by sweeping or shovelling it out of the way or applying salt are accepted good practice.