Surface dressing

Find out about the process of surface dressing, when it is carried out and how works can affect you.

Surface dressing is a process that is used to improve the surface of the roads and slows down the deterioration of the road surface. The rapid speed of the process means that disruption to road users, local businesses and emergency services is minimised. 

We treat roads between April and September because the process needs warm, dry weather to allow the dressing to become established.

This type of work cannot be undertaken in wet or damp conditions. If the weather results in us not being able to carry out these works as planned, we will reschedule at the earliest opportunity. This is likely to be the next dry day, however we will update signs on site if work is delayed beyond this.


When the surface or sub-surface layers of the road have deteriorated to a point that they need to be replaced, we remove the existing layer and lay a new surface. Resurfacing is expensive, but will normally last at least 15 years.

We therefore surface dress many of our roads; this treats the road surface to stop it getting worse and avoids the need for expensive resurfacing works. This is cheaper than rebuilding works, so we can maintain more roads for the same budget. This is why some of the worst roads are not worked on first.

Surface dressing also:

  • improves skidding resistance which makes the roads safer
  • helps to make a road waterproof
  • protects the road against frost and water damage.

We spray the road with bitumen binder, followed by a layer of stone chippings. The chippings are pressed into the surface by a roller.

Surface dressing offers many advantages: 

  • It helps to reduce spray caused by vehicles travelling on wet road surfaces
  • Compared to re-laying hot mix asphalt, surface dressing provides a very low carbon footprint solution
  • Most of the aggregate used is in direct contact with the vehicle tyre, minimising the use of scarce aggregate resources
  • It maximises the cost-effectiveness of limited highway maintenance funds - depending on traffic volumes surface dressing normally lasts between 6 to 12 years


Please note:

  • Before the start time of the works, parked vehicles should be removed from the road 
  • During the dates/times, vehicles will not be able to park on the road 

A month or two before surface dressing starts, patching is carried out to repair the existing road surface before surface dressing. Works generally consist of digging out and trimming back defective surfacing material. As well as patching with hot bitumen material to seal the existing surface and prevent the ingress of water.

Work will be carried out under a temporary road closure, although it may be possible to keep the road open by carrying out some of the works using temporary traffic management measures. This will depend on the size and location of the patches.

Shortly before surface dressing starts, road gullies and drains are covered with hessian sacking to stop binder and chippings getting in. This is removed once the surface dressing has been completed.

Advance notice boards will be placed on site before works start showing the dates(s) of the proposed works.

Read about roadworks, road resurfacing and pavement resurfacing to learn the other ways roads are maintained.

Access during works

We have to close roads to provide enough room for the patching and surface dressing to be carried out safely.

Depending on the road width and nature of the site, this may involve a road closure with local diversions and/or traffic lights or "stop/go" boards

Access to properties and businesses within the roadworks site will be available subject to ongoing operations. 

Our staff are on site to answer questions and to help you get into or out of the roadworks site safely using the right route through our works.

However, access to your property may be temporarily unavailable for about 15-20 minutes, (e.g. if we are digging up the road or footpath outside your driveway, or laying a new surface where you need to drive).

We understand that businesses need to know that customers can still visit, so where appropriate we will display information saying "Businesses open as usual".

Other services are notified of planned roadworks, e.g. your local council for bin collections.

On-street parking will be unavailable for the duration of the works. Please find an alternative place to park during this time. This will allow the resurfacing work on the first day to be completed as quickly as possible and disruption to be minimised. If needed, the following day will be used to sweep any excess material off the road, using a mechanical sweeper.

Access would immediately be made available to any emergency vehicle.

The road is safe to drive on following application of the chippings, provided speeds remain below the reduced speed limit. Reduced speed restriction signs will be displayed where work is being carried out to warn motorists about the chippings. There may be some loose chippings on the surface after the works which could affect driving conditions and an advisory 20mph speed limit will remain in place until the loose chippings have been compacted into the new surface by the flow of traffic.  

For your safety, the safety of others, and to prevent damage to vehicles, please keep to the speed limitkeep your distance from the vehicle in front, avoid turning or braking sharply and don't overtake. Bitumen can become fluid during warm weather. Walking or driving on the new surface before it has set may result in permanent marking on your driveway and internal floors or carpets.

To ensure a uniform coating of the surface, more chippings are deliberately applied to the surface than are actually required to complete the dressing process. The road is then opened to traffic, with 20mph speed warning signs in place which allows slow moving traffic to further embed the chippings. The road is swept at regular intervals to remove any excess chippings.

  • First sweep: within 24 hours after completion of the works
  • Second sweep: within 7 days after works are completed
  • Third sweep (if required): within 14 days of works being completed.

To protect your vehicle it is important to keep it off the road while we are surface dressing and to only drive at 20 mph for the first few days after the road has been treated.

Broken windscreen – if your windscreen is damaged, in most cases this will be covered by your own insurance and there is no need to contact us.

Bitumen on paintwork – some splashes of bitumen may occur and can be cleaned with products available from car accessory shops or garages. If there is substantial damage, make a note of all the details of the incident and contact us online.

Bitumen on tyres – do not attempt to clean tyres with any products. Usually bitumen will wear off by itself. If there is substantial damage make a note of all the details of the incident and contact us as above.

We identify which roads to repair based on:

  • regular inspections
  • annual surveys using specialist equipment
  • reports from councillors, parish councils and community groups
  • reports from residents – you can report a defect online

Road Markings

Any lines will be replaced approximately 3 weeks after the surface has been dressed - this ensures that any excess chippings have been removed and that the lining is more likely to adhere to the surface. When we do this is dependent on weather conditions as lining in wet or damp weather can affect the quality of the work.

Please note that we may not replace the lines "like for like".  A number of trials around the country have demonstrated that the removal of some road markings can have a positive effect on road safety by reducing vehicle speeds.  This approach also supports the need for Suffolk Highways to reduce its ongoing maintenance liabilities.

Replacement of the lining and road studs will be made on a road hierarchy basis, this considers the usage of the road and strategic importance within the county network.  For more information on road hierarchies, please visit Categories of roads, footways and cycleways.

Road markings will be renewed following surfacing or surface dressing work as follows:

  • on road types 2 and 3a, we will replace all existing road markings;
  • on road types 3b, 4a and 4b, we will replace all priority road markings.  Other markings will only be renewed where a specific need is identified.
  • on road types 3b, 4a and 4b, we will not replace plain centre lines road markings (2 metres line & 4 metres gap up to and including 40 mph roads and 3 metres line & 6 metres gap on the high speed network) unless a specific need is identified

Priority road markings are:

  • "Stop" and "Give Way" markings;
  • markings associated with traffic regulation orders;
  • double white line systems;
  • warning centre line markings (4 metres line & 2 metres gap up to and including 40 mph roads and 6 metres line & 3 metres gap on the high speed network);
  • markings associated with formal pedestrian crossing places (e.g. signalised/zebra crossings) and mini-roundabouts.
  • junction protection markings

Road Studs

Following surfacing or surface dressing works, road studs will be replaced once the road markings have been laid as follows:

  • on all road types, reflective road studs will not be replaced on 30 mph roads unless the road studs are associated with a priority road marking system or a specific need is identified;
  • on road types 2 and 3a, we will replace all remaining road studs;
  • on road types 3b, 4a and 4b, we will replace road studs associated with priority road marking systems and where previously installed in conjunction with warning centre line markings.