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. 

Surface dressing is a cost-effective way of restoring the road surface and sealing it in one process. 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

Why are there loose chippings on the road after work has been completed?

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: the day after works completed
  • Second sweep: 7 days after works completed
  • Third sweep (if required): within 30 days of works being completed

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.

This doesn’t seem like an effective treatment for the road, why not resurface it instead?

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.

What happens if my vehicle is damaged?

To protect your vehicle it is important to keep it off the road while we are surface dressing and to only drive at 20mph 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.

How we choose roads to resurface

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

Before surface dressing starts

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.

Communication and advance warning 

Advance notice boards will be placed on site before works start showing the dates(s) of the proposed works. Letters to residents will give the programmed start date, duration of works and the start and end times when the road will be closed to traffic. 

Read about roadworksroad resurfacing and pavement resurfacing to learn the other ways roads are maintained.


Driving during and after the works

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 overtakeBitumen 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.

How our works may affect you

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.






Road markings and studs

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. This is again 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 and they may change. 

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 on-going maintenance liabilities.

For A roads we will maintain and replace all road markings. 

For B, C and U roads we will replace all mandatory lining (e.g STOP and no overtaking), lining associated with road safety schemes, give-way, edge, SLOW and right turn lane markings. We will replace centre line markings which previously existed around bends and when approaching junctions etc. There will be no general replacement of other centre lines where the road is straight or reasonably straight with slight bends. 

Road studs

Roads studs are reinstated following the road markings.

For A and B roads, we will replace all road studs by the end of September at the latest. 

For C and U roads, we will review the need for road studs and replace them where there is a safety need.

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