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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.
This information is based upon procedures used in England, but there are lessons and resources used in this overview, which could be applied internationally.
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:
The design phase may often be sub-divided in to two or three sub-phases, namely:
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once a road scheme receives planning permission, engineers the detailed design and preparation of contract documents.
Within the more detailed design, Engineers should:
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.
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.
Highways England produces standards and documentation relating to the design, construction and maintenance of highways. Documents are available free online, including:
Further information related to standards for highways is also available on the Standards for Highways online resource webpage.
ICE Training provides a range of courses to help you improve your understanding and knowledge of highways engineering. Courses include: