Challenge of keeping roads gritted at winter

Gritter machine at the back of a gritter truck at the Liversedge depot. (d20121105)
Gritter machine at the back of a gritter truck at the Liversedge depot. (d20121105)

KEEPING our roads clear of snow and ice in winter can be a round-the-clock job for the team at Kirklees Council.

With its fleet of 32 vehicles, it can grit the 700 miles of priority routes – 60 per cent of all roads in the district – in two hours.

But there are challenges to maintaining one of the biggest networks in the country based on the percentage covered.

Drivers can struggle to reach the depot in the worst weather or heavy traffic, abandoned cars often block routes, and some people even ask for their driveways to be gritted.

Operations manager Neil Toothill said: “People say they’ve not seen a gritter so we’ve not been out, but a lot of our grits are out at 5am or 6pm.

“As you can imagine, sometimes in severe whether we’re out there all day and sometimes all night. We’ve also got teams who go to town and village centres in severe weather clearing ice and snow by hand.

“There’s some quite significant cost involved which is why we have to prioritise. We can’t be everywhere all the time.”

It costs the council £15,000 every time a ‘full grit’ of all priority routes takes place, and sending teams to clear snow by hand costs £16,000 per day.

With such costs involved, it is important to be able to make informed decisions about whether to grit roads.

It is then that the team turns to a daily MET Office forecast unique to Kirklees.

Mr Toothill said: “It gives us differences in temperature between say Dewsbury and Holmfirth. It is a forecast though and just like forecasts on TV news it can be slightly wrong.”

Night patrols monitor conditions and electronic weather warning signs on the most remote Pennine routes can be activated by text message.

The team also uses its @KirkleesWinter feed on Twitter to keep 2,360 followers updated.

“It’s nationally recognised as one of the best systems,” Mr Toothill said. “It gives people the opportunity to talk to us and us the opportunity to put information out there.

“When it was first introduced I never thought it would work, but it’s taken off massively.”