PREPARATIONS are already under way to keep Bolton’s motorways free of ice and snow this winter.

The Highways Agency depot at Chorley Road, in Westhoughton, houses a grit store with 20,000 tonnes of rock salt and five road gritters.

The depot is one of several across Area 10 — the second biggest motorway network in the country spanning Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and South Lancashire — and Westhoughton’s patch includes the M61, M65 and M60 as well as several access roads.

Temperature changes are detected by the Agency’s 16 roadside weather stations, which include sensors and cameras, and have antennas to communicate information to head office.

In combination with information from the Met Office — which has a full-time presence at the Agency’s National Traffic Centre in Birmingham between October and April — decisions are then taken on whether gritting should take place.

When drivers are put on alert, gritters are stocked with rock salt and, if necessary, a brine and water solution which can be added to the salt for dealing with different weather conditions.

Andy Olive, the Highways Agency’s Winter Services Manager for Area 10, said: “We’ve got enough rock salt stored here to keep going for 10 days without being resupplied but the salt mines in Winsford have got 120-years’ worth.

“Last year we used about 15,000 tonnes of salt.

“If it’s snowing and wet we use rock salt, we add the brine if temperatures are low and dry.”

And Mr Olive insisted the gritters would always be able to do their job, whatever the weather.

He said: “I think the drivers do an amazing job.

“When you’re asleep they are out there keeping the roads clear so you can go to work.”

Matt Briscoe, who lives in Breightmet, Bolton. has been driving gritters for four years.

He said: “The hardest bit is when it’s snowing.

“I grit on the M65 and on some of the sections where I go it can get bad and also very tough in the dark.

“I think people like to see us when we’re out there but they don’t like being behind us, I don’t myself, it’s psychological I think, with the sound of the salt hitting underneath the car.”