Gritting

Why do we Grit?

The Council is the Highway Authority responsible for the maintenance of public roads within Halton. It acts under the authority of the Highways Act 1980.
The Council recognises its obligation to keep the borough’s highways safe and open in periods of severe weather. It therefore follows the National Code of Practice and provides resources in line with the levels of budget available to it. A Winter Maintenance Plan has been produced that details the procedures to be adopted when snow and ice occur.

The plan contains procedures for three main activities:

  • Pre-treatment – precautionary salting to prevent the formation of ice or frost when weather forecast conditions dictate.
  • Post Treatment – Salting to melt snow and ice already formed
  • Snow and Ice Clearance

Where do we grit?

We have plans showing our Gritting Routes and salt bins.

We grit approximately 341km of roads, and this equates to around 52% of the total network. Halton prioritises its gritting routes in accordance with our Winter Maintenance Plan, with the following hierarchy:

  • Primary Routes – Strategic routes and principal roads, important classified and unclassified roads and bus routes.

There 5 are primary routes that cover Runcorn, Widnes, The Expressway and Busway networks.

  • Strategic Footbridges – Gritting of footbridges on major pedestrian routes in exposed locations
  • Secondary Routes – In prolonged and severe periods of lying snow / ice, estates and minor access roads in hilly or exposed locations will be treated, and consideration given to important footway routes (e.g. shopping precincts etc)

There is a secondary route for both Runcorn and Widnes.
Treatment of Secondary locations will only be considered when conditions dictate, and when all other priorities have been fully and adequately treated and resources become available.

Are pedestrian routes gritted?

In very severe weather conditions, especially when snow or ice may remain for several days, gritting is prioritised according to use, public need and local conditions.

When do we grit?

A detailed forecast, received on a daily basis, gives predictions of the possibility of freezing road temperatures, snow etc, and the time those conditions may occur, thus enabling decisions to be made as to if, or when, gritting is necessary. In addition, throughout the winter season, checks on the effectiveness of the gritting operations are carried out.

Often, you will wake up to find frost on your car, but will notice that the roads have not been gritted. This is because the decision is based on road temperatures and not air temperature. Salting will take place:

  • When roads may be wet and road temperatures are forecast to be at or below freezing
  • When snow is forecast – but it takes time and traffic for salt to melt the snow
  • When the air is moist and a frost is formed on a road below freezing.

Gritting is usually completed before freezing temperatures occur but falling rain may occasionally delay the start of treatments leaving roads liable to freezing until they are gritted. 

How do we operate?

Interpretation of weather forecasts is not an exact science and relies on the experience and local knowledge of the Highway Officer. The fleet of 5 dedicated gritting vehicles can be mobilised day or night, but timing is crucial as it takes between 2½ and 4 hours to complete the gritting routes.
Each gritter spreads between 5 and 7 tonnes of rock salt. In a typical year over 1000 tonnes of rock salt is spread over an average of 35 separate gritting operations. The rate of spread of salt can be varied according to the forecast weather conditions.
We have two salt depots, one at Picow Farm Road Runcorn and one at Lowerhouse Lane Widnes, and a stock of up to 1300 tonnes of salt is held and maintained throughout the winter. Gritting operations are undertaken by our Term Maintenance Contractor, and take place wherever possible in the late evening or early morning to avoid heavy traffic and delays disrupting the operation. However, forecasts can sometimes force treatment at other times of the day. Footbridges are particularly prone to icing up, and are normally gritted as part of the regular road gritting operations. This is a labour intensive operation and it takes 4 hours to visit and treat these sites.
We will, within available resources, provide as safe a passage as possible for the users of the highway network within Halton, however it is not practically possible to either:

  • Provide the gritting service on all parts of the Highway network
  • Ensure roads are kept free of ice and snow at all times, even on treated parts of the network.

What technology is used?

The technology includes 2 non-invasive sensors located within Halton. The sensors provide information on air temperature, road temperature, surface condition etc, and the data is collected and refreshed on the system every hour throughout the winter. This data is used to provide forecasts of predicted conditions and are specific to Halton. Highway officers are on duty 24 hours a day throughout the year, and they have access to a computer system that receives forecasts direct from Manchester Weather Centre. They can also access the data from many other sensors in Lancashire, Cheshire and Merseyside to enhance the forecast accuracy.

Do you provide grit bins?

We have a map showing salt bins.

There are currently 71 Highway grit bins throughout Halton, in areas not normally subject to mechanical treatment, at hilly exposed locations and potentially dangerous road junctions. In addition, grit bins may be provided by other organisations at locations such as schools, public buildings etc.

Requests for the provision of a grit bin are assessed and judged against an agreed criteria, and are only provided if the location fully complies with the criteria.

The government has produced a “Snow Code” to advise householders and businesses in how they can help by clearing ice and snow from pavements themselves.

What don’t we do?

Not all streets are treated. Many minor estate roads are outside the standard routes. For both logistical and economic reasons these areas will only be treated during severe conditions. Please also be aware that motorways and trunk roads are the responsibility of the highway england.

Where frost or ice / snow only lasts for a short period it is not practical to commence footway gritting, as the process could not be completed before a thaw. For this reason only a limited extent of footway gritting is normally undertaken, targeted at strategic locations as set out in the Winter Maintenance Plan.

We cannot guarantee to keep roads free of ice and snow.

The Council cannot undertake to supply private individuals with Salt. Local builder’s merchants, some garden centres and other suppliers usually sell rock salt for private use.

What does gritting the roads cost?

In an average year, the cost of gritting operations is in the region of £185,000, however, in the years 08/09 and 09/10, this figure was considerably higher (in excess of £320,000) due to the most prolonged period of severe winter weather for 30 years.

In 2010 £90,000 has been spent on the provision of a new salt storage barn at Lowerhouse Lane. This added capacity, together with the storage facilities at Picow Farm Road, will enable total storage in the region of 1300 tonnes.

How can the motorist help?

“Be prepared” – carry out vehicle checks, monitor traffic and weather conditions and plan your journey. Carry an emergency kit in your car.
If driving conditions are very bad – do you really need to travel, if so, consider making your journey by public transport. If you do need to travel in your vehicle, it is important to remember that ultimate responsibility lies with the drivers themselves to use the roads in accordance with the prevailing conditions.
We should all be aware of the road conditions particularly in the winter months. Listen to weather forecasts as they can often warn of icy conditions not visible when driving.

Remember, even if the road has been gritted, ice can still be present. Dawn frosts and early morning dew can quickly turn to ice. Never assume a road is safe when temperatures are close to zero. Wait for your windscreen to clear before driving off an icy windscreen is no better than driving in thick fog.
A common misconception is that rock salt will immediately disperse ice and snow and that the roads are then safe to use normally. This is not the case and the action of traffic is needed to work the salt into the road surface for it to be totally effective. This takes time to achieve.

Please remember:

  • Never assume a road has been gritted.
  • Allow extra time for your journey and reduce your speed.
  • Try your brakes after going through deep water, braking lightly will help dry them out.
  • It takes time for salt to become effective, if snow has fallen it also needs traffic movement.
  • Showers or rain will wash salt off roads leaving them prone to icing.
  • In very cold weather even salt will not stop ice from forming.
  • Forecasts are not always accurate, and it takes between 2.5 and 4 hours to grit the network.
  • When freezing or snow follows rain there may not be enough time to complete gritting operations before temperatures fall to zero.
  • Give snow ploughs and gritters plenty of room – be patient, don’t follow too close behind.
  • In fog, you think you are travelling slower than you really are – slow down and don’t use the tail lights of the vehicle in front as a guide.
  • In high winds watch out for sudden gusts and debris on the road.
  • Don’t park where it may block a gritting route.
  • Accelerate and brake more gently in wet or icy conditions.
  • Break before reaching a bend, not on it.
  • Use dipped headlights in mist, heavy rain, fog or falling snow.
  • Use rear fog lights in fog, mist or falling snow BUT remember to turn them of as soon as conditions allow.
  • Slow down and leave more space between you and the vehicle in front.
  • Slow down and be aware of vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians.