The road development process: An overview

This briefing sheet gives an introduction for built environment professionals, who are relatively new to Highway engineering, of the road development process and how improvement schemes are developed.

Road improvement on the A3 at Hindhead
Road improvement on the A3 at Hindhead

This information is based upon procedures used in England, but there are lessons and resources used in this overview, which could be applied internationally.

Road improvement scheme: phases of development

A general example of a road improvement scheme would involve several classic steps, with the main phases in the development process of a scheme being:

  • Planning; Design; and Tender

Followed by:

  • Construction; Maintenance; and Operation

The design phase may often be sub-divided in to two or three sub-phases, namely:

  • Concept; Preliminary; and Detailed design

Identifying the problem and possible solutions

As a first step, a highway authority would usually identify a safety or capacity related problem on its road network and investigate potential solutions. A well-functioning road should provide safe and reliable journeys, and contribute to the growth of a successful economy.

In highlighting a successful objective for undertaking a road improvement scheme, and using the strategic road network (SRN) as an example, the SRN must facilitate the efficient movement of people and goods.

For the SRN if investigations highlight that there is a safety or capacity related problem , the Department for Transport (DfT) Circular 02/2013 explains that Development proposals are likely to be acceptable if:

  • They can be accommodated within the existing capacity of a section (link or junction) of the strategic road network; or
  • They do not increase demand for use of a section that is already operating at over-capacity levels.

Concept/feasibility studies and consultation

If, after investigation, a viable road scheme were identified, a concept design and feasibility study would be carried out to identify the options.

The Highways Agency [now Highways England] published the Project Control Framework handbook (2013), which sets out how to manage and deliver major improvement projects.

In preparing a concept design for a major development, the Highway Engineer would address the practicalities of cost effective access for all modes of travel, assessment of the suitability of the existing infrastructure, the parking and servicing arrangements and the detailed design of on and off-site civil engineering works.

Feasibility studies involve both a desktop and a site visit, address the key fundamentals of access, and access constraints. Investigations will also take place as to the current lawful use of the site and its present potential for generating traffic.

Upon completion, stakeholders and the public are consulted to help identify the preferred solution of the options identified.

Design and estimated costs

After choosing the preferred scheme, a preliminary design and estimate would be prepared. This is often conducted by a consultant who would independently prepare the preliminary design to enable a decision to be taken on where the road should be located within the preferred route envelope. This design will include topographical, environmental and geographical surveys.

Once the design an estimate is prepared, the next step would be to prepare the Highways Act1980 draft orders, and to publish and seek objections for the road improvement scheme.

Planning and legislation

Road improvement schemes must comply with the planning procedures that apply in the country in which they are located. For the Strategic Road Network, Highways England has produced a guide to working with them on planning matters: Planning for the Future (2015).

The guidance document describes the approach Highways England take to engaging in the planning system and the issues they look at when considering draft planning documents and planning applications. It offers advice on the information they would like to see included in a planning proposal, and outlines the support they can offer. It is a useful aide for local authorities, developers, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), community groups and others involved in plan-making, development management, development promotion or decision-taking in respect of land close to any part of the Strategic Road Network (SRN).

Planning Act 2008 Procedures

If the cost of the scheme is above the current threshold of £200 million for a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIG), its implementation will come under the provision of the Planning Act 2008. For further information on the National Infrastructure Planning process, please visit the National Infrastructure Planning website, which includes information and resources on this process, and advice on legislation.

Highways Act 1980

If the cost of the road improvement scheme is below the current £200 million threshold, a Planning Act 2008 draft development order is not needed, and you should refer to the Highways Act 1980. An Environmental Impact Assessment will be required for all road schemes. For Special Roads, the official classification of motorways, a draft order may need to be published and you should refer to the Highways Act 1980.

Public Inquiry

A public inquiry is a very formal procedure, which is usually reserved for significant major developments or proposals of a sensitive nature where all aspects of the development often need to be examined in detail.

Best practice for Inquiries into local Highway schemes is available from the Planning Inspectorate. A guide to public inquiries is also available from the Office of the Traffic Commissioner.

Report on procedures and decision on whether to proceed

Once these procedures have been followed and fully considered, a decision would then be taken on whether to proceed. Local Authorities can agree to grant itself planning permission for local roads. If the scheme is an NSIG however, the Secretary of State can call for a process of public inquiry.

Detailed design and preparation of contract documents

Once a road scheme receives planning permission, engineers the detailed design and preparation of contract documents.

Within the more detailed design, Engineers should:

  • Produce further detailed topographical, geological and geotechnical surveys;
  • Produce detailed design of bridges/structures, drainage, earthworks and pavement;
  • Consider health & safety and factor this into the detailed design. The CDM Regulations 2015 can be downloaded from the Health & Safety Executive website.

Tendering process and construction period

Engineers should refer to the Highways England procurement strategy. This is an evolving document and is updated regularly. Details are available at the Highways England Procurement web pages.

Once the tender is awarded, construction is then in the hands of the successful contractor for the construction of the scheme to time.

Hand over to Client, road opens and maintenance period begins

Once the construction phase is complete, the road is then handed over to the client authority for use by traffic. The contract then enters the maintenance period phase, where the contractor remains responsible for the road structure. As a result of the final inspection prior to handover, there are usually minor problems identified, which the contractor must correct, or pay to correct. The work undertaken by the contractor during the maintenance period is separate from normal road maintenance activities.

Useful resources

Highways England produces standards and documentation relating to the design, construction and maintenance of highways. Documents are available free online, including:

  • The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) contains information about current standards, advice notes and other published documents relating to the design, assessment and operation of trunk roads, including motorways. The DMRB has been prepared for trunk roads and motorways. The basis of use of these documents by local highways authorities is given in the DMRB GD 1/08. Check with your local highway authority for their policy on this matter The DMRB was introduced in 1992 in England and Wales, and following that in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Some standards and specifications have annexes specific to each devolved administration. You should contact the relevant devolved authority directly for guidance.
  • The Manual of Contract Documents for Highway Works contains the primary documents required for the preparation of contracts for trunk road works. It consists of several parts, including the administrative procedures for its use, the specification for highway works and the corresponding method measurements.
  • Interim Advice Notes (IANs) issued by Highways England contain specific guidance, which should only be used in connection with works on motorways and trunk roads in England, subject to any specific implementation instructions contained within an IAN. IANs are not part of the DMRB and the MCHW but must be read in conjunction. They may incorporate amendments or additions to documents in these manuals.
  • Eurocodes - As a public body, Highways England expresses its requirements for the design and modification of existing structures (including geotechnical works) in terms of Eurocodes. Highways England’s technical experts were involved in the drafting of the Eurocodes and the National Annexes.
  • The Network Management Manual (NMM) provides mandatory requirements, guidance and advice for the management of maintenance of the trunk road network.
  • The performance requirements for routine and winter service activities on the trunk road network are included in the Routine and Winter Service Code.
  • The Traffic Management and Maintenance Manual, published January 2013, sets out requirements for the management and maintenance of traffic technology systems.

Further information related to standards for highways is also available on the Standards for Highways online resource webpage.

ICE Training courses

ICE Training provides a range of courses to help you improve your understanding and knowledge of highways engineering. Courses include: