What comes from Cheshire, weighs over 18,000 tonnes and will probably help prevent lots of road accidents this winter?
The answer is Norfolk’s grit supply. The gritters have already been out once this season and they’re going out again tonight. And, as you might expect, they are likely to be needed dozens more times throughout the winter as temperatures fall away.
But how will this grit end up on so many of our roads during the next few months? Will we have enough grit to get us through a bad winter? And is it even grit?
Nick Tupper, Highways Maintenance Manager at Norfolk County Council, is the man with the answers. He gave us the lowdown on exactly how they make our roads safer to travel on when wintry weather hits.
What exactly is the material that goes down on our roads in the winter and how does it work?
We refer to it as grit but it’s actually rock salt, which is a naturally occurring material.
Our rock salt is mined and brought over from Cheshire and is then treated with something called Safecote, which makes it a bit more sticky when it goes down on the road.
The rock salt is then spread out from the back of our gritters onto the road to prevent ice forming.
It melts the snow and ice and is helped by the action of traffic going over it to spread it out further over the road.
How quickly does it take effect once it’s been spread?
It starts working straight away but once it’s moved about by the traffic then it spreads out and becomes effective across the whole of the carriageway. If there’s snow or sleet then it can dilute the effect somewhat but it does still work.
Which roads are currently on the gritting routes in Norfolk?
We treat the main roads, the key routes in the county. So that’s the A roads, the B roads, our main distributor roads and also an access road into each of the villages.
That makes up about 2,000 miles across the whole of our network, which is about a third of the roads in Norfolk.
There’s an affordability issue for us so we grit a proportion of roads. It’s about prioritising which routes need it most and making sure that we grit where it’s most effective.
Do you change and review the routes each year?
There are always some minor changes and we also review the individual gritting routes to make sure they’re optimising the travelling time to make it most effective.
This year we’ve added about five miles to the route from the previous year and every year there’s a few roads that get added in.
How do people make requests about adding roads to the gritting route?
If people have particular concerns they can either approach us directly through the County Council website or through their local parish council and ask us to look at specific issues.
We take requests throughout the year but we review them in the spring once the winter season’s finished so it’s ready for the next season because otherwise it can disrupt the routes.
Having 57 gritting routes, it takes a lot of coordination to get it all set up and working well.
Is a gritted road in the winter as safe to drive on as a ‘normal’, non-gritted road?
Like all roads at any time of year, you must drive to the existing road conditions as they appear.
The fact that the road has been gritted doesn’t mean that you can just drive to normal conditions as if it was a dry day in the summer.
We need to go out and complete the gritting action prior to any ice forming on the roads and we have a three hour treatment period for our 57 gritting routes.
We generally aim to start at about 6 o’clock in the evening when people are on their way home so we can complete the action before ice is formed.
We treat as necessary depending on whether it’s required. If we’re going out then we prefer to go in the evening but we do gritting actions in the morning as well and sometimes both morning and evening if necessary.
How do you decide when to grit and when not to?
We employ a professional weather forecasting company that provides us with forecasts of whether it’s going to be icy or not and then make a decision every day during the winter season about whether or not we’re going to go out gritting.
So have you got any indication on the kind of winter we’re going to get this year?
Any degree of accuracy from our forecasts is restricted to around a week so we haven’t got any long-term predictions of what it might be.
We did 74 gritting actions last year which is roughly in line with our average but on a bad year we have actually done as many as 130.
But we’ve got 18,000 tonnes of salt already in the county which is enough for 54 gritting actions even at our highest rate of spread.
As soon as we use any of this up we get a replacement from our source supplier so we’re well stocked up, trained and ready for winter whatever the weather.
Got the grit between your teeth?
The County Council’s @NorfolkCC Twitter account and Norfolk community Facebook page will be providing gritting updates every day throughout the winter, whether we’re gritting or not, so you’ll have a better idea of the road and weather conditions you’re likely to face when setting off on a journey.
And for further information, including how to report a gritting problem and advice on how to drive safely in winter weather conditions, visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/gritting.