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Traffic agency snowed under by calls from drivers

The Road Users' Line received 20,000 calls in December from drivers frustrated with slick and poorly maintained roads.

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Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle

Drivers tired of poor road maintenance have flooded the telephone line of Finland's regional centres for Economic Development, the Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres), which are responsible for snow removal and gritting in Finland. In December alone, the road users’ helpline received close to 20,000 calls while about 3,000 went unanswered due to the deluge.

“Last year was extremely busy and it seems the number of calls in December will beat any previous record,” says Sami Luoma from the Finnish Transport Agency, which helps run the line.

By calling the helpline, which is open 24 hours a day, anyone can inform the authorities about road conditions and traffic problems. The official on duty contacts a contractor, who at a minimum should check the location in question. If needed, other measurements such as gritting may be required.

The five most common topics raised by callers last year were:

  1. anti-skid treatment
  2. maintenance of gravel roads
  3. clearing of snow and slush
  4. removal of hard ridges of snow on the road
  5. road surface repair

Warm winters create problems

”Road maintenance has gotten worse. In the past roads were graded and gritted, but now only the intersections have some grit on them,” says Asko Humaloja, who delivers newspapers and post in Kiuruvesi, central Finland.

Jukka Karjalainen from the Finnish Transport Agency does not agree – at least directly.

“The road users' line has become better-known which is one reason for the increase in calls. Of course the fact that our funding has remained at the same level for the past 10-15 years means that maintaining roads in the winter has become more difficult.”

On the other hand, weather conditions have become more challenging, Karjalainen says. It used to be that so called “coast conditions” where temperatures fluctuate from below zero to above zero were prevalent only in southern and southwestern Finland. Now, such weather can be found as far north as in Kuopio, according to Karjalainen.

”In such conditions the weather changes fast and it becomes slippery everywhere. Even if we send out all of our equipment, we cannot react quickly enough,” Karjalainen explains.

Improving maintenance is costly

One possibility to improve road maintenance in the winter is to lift roads into a higher maintenance class. The transport agency classifies roads into six categories on which the level and speed of maintenance depends.

In the end it all comes down to money. Raising the level of winter maintenance for 600 kilometres of road costs half a million euros per year, Karjalainen says.

"If we were to move all roads up in the maintenance classification, it would cost 10-30 million euros each year,” Karjalainen says.

However Humaloja who has called the Road Users’ Line many times believes calling does have an effect.

“One time I was calling the Line but had to hang up when I saw a motor grader on the road,” he says.

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