The latest advances in digital technology could be a ‘game changer’ for highways assets and network management, according to a new report.
The route to the highways systems of the future, published by the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), examines how digital innovation can help with the construction, operation and maintenance of local road networks and other highways infrastructure.
According to the report, digital and technology innovation is already being trialled on local roads in some UK cities, sub-regions, and communities and there is a ‘large’ public appetite for smart city systems and applications.
But is also warns that digital activity on the road network is too often ‘fragmented’ and carried out on a ‘project-by-project’ basis.
It adds that arrangements and support for replication, scaling up and consistent knowledge transfer from bodies like Highways England (HE) and Transport for London (TfL) to local authorities are ‘immature or not established at all’.
‘The main conclusion of this report is that without proactive intervention, the significant benefits of digital and technology innovation on local highways networks will progress slowly and only partially be delivered,’ the report adds.
‘Network capacity will be periodically overwhelmed or underutilised; asset management will cost more and deliver less; user congestion and services failure will remain a major part of the travel experience; societal goals for business growth, housing supply, cleaner air, and environmental sustainability will be frustrated,’ it also states.
The total network in England is 188,000 miles, with 2% of this, just 8,000 miles of strategic road network (SRN) managed by Highways England.
The remainder, which includes the nascent major road network (MRN) is managed by local authorities, usually the county council or unitary authority for a particular area.
The report adds that while both the SRN and MRN will be funded in part through vehicle excise duty, the question of how digital innovation can be implemented across the overwhelming majority of the system remains.
‘This report provides a work-in progress examination of how we can improve performance for the 180bn+ vehicle miles per year that use the majority of often rural highways systems outside the SRN and MRN,’ said ADEPT president, Simon Neilson.
‘Digitally enabled highways systems are fundamental not only to the future of highways asset management, but will be a major contributor to the UK’s future success in the global economy. We need local highways authorities to be able to share expertise and best practice to avoid a piecemeal and staggered roll-out across the country.
‘ADEPT will be a champion for the proposals outlined in the report, ready to take the lead to advocate radical changes in the construction, management and user experience of our highways,’ he added.
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