The UK rarely sees such a prolonged period of hot weather, and for councils up and down the country that will be a relief as the road network has already started to show signs of straining under the high temperatures. While the mercury rose to around the 30C mark in many parts of the country, road surfaces climbed to almost 50C and caused tar to melt and conditions to become sticky. Motorists must have thought they were hallucinating as gritting lorries, usually reserved for the winter, took to the streets to spread stone chips and dust to help soak up the tar and prevent roads breaking up. The Highways Agency has said that the materials used to construct our roads should withstand temperatures up to 60C, but gritters have been seen in places such as Hampshire, Northumberland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Emergency repairs were even carried out on one stretch of road in Pembrokeshire as the A4218 started to break up, with council bosses stating that there was no doubt the extremely hot weather of recent weeks had played its part. Dr Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association, told the BBC recently that asphalt was "like chocolate". "It melts and softens when it's hot, and goes hard and brittle when it's cold - it doesn't maintain the same strength all year round." Some roads in the UK might be unaffected by the high temperatures during the heatwave because they have been constructed using a new asphalt specification with polymer modified binders which raises the softening point to 80C. However, this is expensive to use and many cash-strapped councils are not able to include it in their budget, with Dr Robinson believing that just five per cent of all the country's highways are made from this material. After the last couple of harsh winters, where highways have broken up and potholes appeared because of snow and ice, the state of the UK's road network could worsen this summer and leave much repair work needing to be carried out.
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