Councils are considering reclassifying damaged roads and crumbling country lanes as byways in order to shirk responsibility for upkeep and repairs.
An investigation by the Sunday Times has revealed that highways officers at some cash-strapped authorities have discussed downgrading certain rarely used rural roads to "green lanes" or off-road "cart tracks".
The move would allow councils to essentially ignore the roads, meaning many could erode away to a state of complete disrepair.
"The amount of money available is becoming so difficult that there may be a situation where some of the road network has to be abandoned to nature," said Richard Hayes, who until January was a highways maintenance manager at Northumberland county council and is now president of the Institute of Highway Engineers.
"We've got a network that is absolutely enormous; do we need it all?" he added.
Talks about downgrading roads were disclosed in a report by the Asphalt Industry Alliance. It claimed that the average council was £6.2m short of what it needed to maintain roads.
"We're talking about not mending them and turning them into green roads," said one engineer in the report.
Edmund King, AA president, said: "Downgrading roads to green lanes or cart tracks doesn't solve our pothole problem. Even minor highways and byways are used by thousands of drivers, motorbike riders and cyclists. The perils of deep potholes are treacherous for those on two wheels.
"One third of AA members have had their cars damaged by potholes in the last two years. Indeed a couple of weeks ago my front suspension was severely damaged by a pot-holed road. We need to address the issue of potholes rather than try to sweep them under the carpet by some reclassification of the roads."
Read: Local authorities pay out £22 million in pothole compensation
Read: Pothole damage three times more likely in the North
Read: Potholes are getting larger due to cheap repairs