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Infrastructure blog

The need for a more innovative approach to cutting road congestion

03 April 2018
ICE and the Pipe Jacking Association recently hosted a roundtable to discuss how to reduce congestion caused by road works including representatives from the Department for Transport and the National Infrastructure Commission.
The need for a more innovative approach to cutting road congestion
Urban traffic congestion caused by utility roadworks and other highway interventions cost the economy £4bn a year according to the Department for Transport.

The National Infrastructure Commission identifies urban road congestion as a major issue in its recent consultation ‘Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for National Infrastructure’.

At a roundtable hosted by ICE President Professor Lord Robert Mayor attendees discussed solutions focused on the greater use of outcome based decision-making, more effective communication and the sharing of global best practice of innovative approaches.

Utilities that need repair vs travel delays

The general public has two differing needs. The first is for utilities such as electricity, gas, water and communications networks to function efficiently. The second is to use roads to get from A to B. It is also the public who ultimately pay for these two services and who suffer when they go wrong.

Everyone knows how frustrating it is to see roadworks with no-one working on them. The delays also have serious knock on effects – such as loss of working hours when people are late for work as well as increased carbon emissions.

Utility companies have no legal obligation or incentive to use proven non-disruptive technologies or to consider carbon impacts. There is therefore no necessity to utilise or invest to research new technologies.

Government has proposed a four pronged approach to the issue of roadworks: permits, lane rental, standards and better data management.

Informing construction about new technologies

Reducing and streamlining roadworks is only one way to resolve the wider issue of congestion. As the public are the users – and the people paying – should they be demanding more innovative solutions at no extra cost?  

There is a need for clear decision-making and specification on outcomes while allowing freedom on the how. Clients should set the contractors the challenge of solutions that offer the best outcome for all affected stakeholders.

There are many innovative technologies either in development or already in use which the industry could benefit from, such as robotics, 3D printing and smart concrete. However, there is no clear mechanism for telling construction stakeholders what exists.

This approach to finding innovative solutions for the bigger issues would be well suited to the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenges and aligned with the recommendations from the National Infrastructure Commission so that R&D funding is spent as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Read the policy paper here