Road surface dressing

The process of road surface dressing treatment.

Surface dressing is a treatment used to provide a new surface layer to an existing road. It involves spraying a coating of bitumen onto a road followed by one or more layers of hard stone chippings. This seals the surface against damage and improves the levels of grip available to traffic. 

What happens in advance of the works

Some preparation work will take place ahead of the main surface dressing work:

  • A month ahead - studs (cats’ eyes) will be removed from the road and the holes left behind filled in.
  • Immediately before - minor potholes and other similar damage will be filled in.

What happens on the day of works

On a typical day we will:

  • use traffic management to close the road and install a diversion route to direct road users around the work. Pedestrian access will be unaffected
  • sweep the road surface to remove loose debris
  • spray a thin layer of bitumen over the existing road surface
  • spread a layer of stone over the bitumen
  • roll the stone to embed it into the bitumen
  • depending on the exact specification, lay and roll a further layer of bitumen and stone if required
  • sweep the road to remove any loose stone
  • install a 20mph advisory speed limit
  • remove traffic management and reopen the road to vehicles.

Follow-up work in the days and weeks after

Some additional work will take place in the road in the weeks following surface dressing treatment:

  • As needed – the road will be swept again (usually once or twice) to remove loose stone.
  • Within two weeks – on some roads, a sealant will be sprayed over the new surface. This helps prevent stones coming loose, aids longevity and gives the road a darker appearance.
  • Within one month – we will replace all road markings and studs (cats’ eyes) that were on the road prior to the laying of the new road surface.
  • Within one month – the 20mph advisory speed limit will be removed.

Can I access my property during the work?

Pedestrian access remains unaffected during the works. If necessary, ‘no parking’ cones and signs will be placed out in advance of the work to stop cars parking in the work area which can prevent work from taking place.

Vehicle access to private driveways and off-road parking areas will be maintained where possible but we may have to limit access at some points during the process, for example when working directly outside a driveway.

If you have specific access needs, speak to the workforce on site who will assist you.

Why is the work taking place at night and not during the day?

Most roadworks will cause some disruption to road users and local communities. A key goal during works planning is to minimise this disruption as much as possible, and the specific time of day that work takes place is key to achieving this.

In deciding on the time when the least disruption will be caused, we take many factors into consideration. These include:

  • The disruption and disturbance caused to residents, particularly at night.
  • The ability for residents to access their properties without being stuck in congestion caused by the work.
  • The impact on local businesses, especially during the day.
  • Traffic volumes and the effect on passing road users, commuters, and bus and rail passengers.
  • The impact of long diversion routes on all road users.
  • Safety of our workforce, the local community and the wider travelling public.
  • Quality control.

Roadworks will inevitably generate some noise and when work takes place at night this may disrupt residents’ sleep. To limit this as much as possible, the noisiest work will take place in the early evening, and cease .

When works are planned to take place at night, on balance when considering all the above factors, we feel that the overall inconvenience to all affected groups of carrying out this work at this time is less than doing so during the day.

How does surface dressing work?

Water penetrating lower levels of a road causes potholes and other structural failures. Surface dressing seals the surface of a road, preventing water entering minor defects. These include non-structural cracks, utility works and previous repairs to the road.

Why use surface dressing instead of normal resurfacing?

A surface dressing treatment is a preventative measure while resurfacing is a corrective treatment.

Surface dressing

We treat a road with surface dressing to extend it's life before it suffers significant damage. We may use it in situations where a road surface might still look to be in reasonable condition.

When used at the right time surface dressing delays the need to do more significant work and is a fast process, so causes comparatively little disruption to residents and road users.


Resurfacing takes place when the road has significant or structural damage already. The damaged material needs removing and replacing. Resurfacing works are a bigger job than surface treatments. They cause more disruption to residents and road users.

What are the environmental considerations of using surface dressing?

  • With the existing road surface left in place, reduced working times and no need for disposal of materials means work produces less carbon emissions.
  • There are no waste materials needing recycling or disposal.
  • The quantity of natural materials used is small and there are less carbon emissions from transport because surface dressing is used in thin layers.
  • Surface dressing is not produced using dangerous chemicals so contact is safe for humans and wildlife.
  • Applying a treatment is a smaller job than resurfacing, saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.

How long does a surface dressing treatment last?

A surface treatment prolongs the life of a road by up to 10 years. This can be longer depending on the type of traffic that uses the road and the condition of the underlying road.

Why is there loose stone everywhere?

This is normal. Slightly too much stone is intentionally spread over the road to ensure that there is enough stone present to cover every part of the road.

Over the first few weeks, most of the loose stone will become embedded into the road surface as vehicles pass over and the road will be swept at regular intervals to collect any excess.

When will you replace road markings and studs (cats’ eyes)?

We usually replace road markings and studs around one month after laying the surface dressing. This is generally done after all loose stone has been removed, so it may happen quicker at some sites.

Do drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists need to drive/ride differently on a newly surface dressed road?

Yes. There will be no road markings on the road immediately following the surface dressing treatment, and there is likely to be loose stone on the surface causing reduced grip levels.

An advisory 20mph speed limit will be in place for the first few weeks after surface dressing has been laid. We recommend you follow other vehicles at a greater distance, as you would on a wet road, particularly motorcyclists and cyclists due to them having less contact with the road surface, and the rider being exposed.

A preferable option is for cycles to use an alternative route for the first few days after the road is surface dressed if possible. If you can’t avoid riding on the new surface, take extra care and ride in the wheel tracks created by cars where there will be less loose stone.

Once the road markings are replaced and the loose stone has been cleared, the advisory speed limit will be removed so normal driving can resume.

Can I walk on the newly surface dressed road?

Yes. As soon as the traffic management has been removed the road can be walked on.

Please take care when walking on new surface dressing, as loose stone can reduce grip underfoot.

If walking on the surface very shortly after it has been laid, please check footwear before entering buildings in case any material has stuck to shoes.

Please also keep an eye on pets (particularly cats) during the works. Whilst every effort is made to keep animals clear of the works, they can wander on to the wet material, and then track that material back into their houses.

Last updated:
22 March 2023
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