A section of Lancashire’s road network is set for an upgrade after a series of hot summers put it at risk of collapse.
The so-called “moss roads” are founded on peat and often carry heavy agricultural traffic through rural areas.
There are more than 350 miles of such routes across the county – the majority in West Lancashire, but with over eight miles of them in Burnley.
Works totalling £1.2m were approved at a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s cabinet – double a previous estimate of the cost, because of the complexity of carrying out the repairs. The specialist engineering work required is often more challenging than for conventional routes.
Hot weather causes peat to contract and dry out, leaving the roads cracked and undulating. When water gets into the cracks, the road structure rapidly deteriorates and can fall away at the edges.
Cabinet members heard that it would cost £37m to bring the entire moss road network up to an “acceptable standard” – and that there are insufficient resources to do so. Highways bosses have instead decided to prioritise the repairs by creating a hierarchy of the routes according to their use and importance to the local economy.
The National Farmers’ Union has welcomed the investment as a boost for agriculture in the county.
“Some of these roads serve grade 1 farming land and are vital for multi-million pound businesses ferrying produce like vegetables to market,” NFU North West spokesperson Chris Hudspith said.
“At the moment, we are using outdated infrastructure to carry huge lorries transporting a perishable product.”
Repairs due to be carried out during the current financial year include nine in West Lancashire, three in Wyre and a reserve scheme in Chorley.
But some of the county's other moss roads could be temporarily closed if they are found to be in need of repair, but have not been ranked as a priority. Other routes awaiting repair could have access to them restricted or warning signs erected advising users to take care.
All moss roads – which can fall into any of the usual highways classifications – will still be subject to highway safety inspections and will have defects made safe or repaired according to the county council’s policy for the wider road network.
“[These roads] were never made for the size of vehicles that go down them now,” cabinet member for highways, Keith Iddon, said.
“When I was a young boy, I remember going down them with a horse and cart – but now there are huge vehicles picking produce up.
“The roads are collapsing into the peat, so I’m mindful we need funding to do this.”