5 Key Takeaways from Seeing is Believing 2016
Last week, Director Will Baron was present at the Highways Magazine event, Seeing is Believing. While he was manning the Keysoft Solutions stand he had the opportunity to speak with people involved in the highway sector. He discussed the issues faced by those responsible for the road network, and found out how our customers are using Keysoft products to help tackle them. There were several recurring themes:
There is an incredible amount of technical innovation in the highways industry, just at the engineering level (more on technology later). From low loading traffic management vehicles; pre-constructed inspection chambers; machines designed to remove posts quickly and easily; a range of new road marking materials; cycle lane systems – you name it, there is no area that isn’t undergoing something of a revolution.
Since the recession, there is an increasing realisation that investment in infrastructure, and highways in particular, is good for the economy and good for growth. Many sectors of the highway industry had to scale down operations, and reduce investment in people, plant and skills. This is now being turned around and the new concern is how highway authorities such as Highways England and Local Authorities will manage to scale up again and deliver on the promise of investment from central government. For example, more than 70% of infrastructure providers are not confident that Highways England has the capacity to deliver the Road Investment Strategy (RIS), according to findings in the CBI/AECOM Infrastructure Survey 2016. It is, however, nothing but good news that investment in the highway network, for the long term, is being prioritised once again.
It is often said that there are not enough young people entering the many professions that make up the organisations working in the highways sector. Promoting the benefits of a career in the sector is something all agree needs to have a clear focus. The IHE for example is establishing a new virtual national academy offering industry-led training in highway engineering. The new National Highway Engineering Academy (NHEA) they are establishing is set to deliver the qualifications, skills and knowledge demanded by the highways industry and in short-supply today. It will be a training hub for the next generation of highway professionals.
On the first day of SIB, a horde of students descended on the event, all were keen to learn about the many aspects that a career in highways can offer. Jobs exist at all levels, and for all skills from the incredibly important road worker, who rightly saw a big focus at the conference by way of many who spoke on road worker safety, right through to the high level planning and design of large and small, complex engineering projects.
#4 Smart Highways
Already being rolled out, many stretches of our major highway network are being converted to ‘smart highways’. Electronics and software companies abound as technological developments help us to manage our roads effectively and efficiently. At the event there were companies showing off sensors for anything and everything; automatic vehicle detection, improved flow management; active road studs; low energy lighting and so on.
BIM is a buzzword that almost everybody has now heard of. However, it seems that there are many different takes on what BIM actually involves. Most agree that it is about increasing the richness of the information available for the effective management of highway assets. Moving to 3D and adding data and intelligence to digital information can’t come soon enough. All seem agreed that the demands on computing hardware will be significantly increased, and it may take some years before accurate, as-built information becomes available from all stakeholders. Building a detailed information model will though, enable increasing interoperability and connectivity between the different sectors of the highway industry and deliver significant cost savings.
#5 Environment and Safety
A great deal of work is being done in many areas to reduce the impact of road traffic on the environment, both at local and global levels, and on our health. One initiative is the promotion of zero (or low) emissions vehicles. Studies into how different vehicles contribute to the levels of NOx and particulates in the air we breathe are increasing our understanding of what needs to be done. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, this year announced plans to tackle air pollution in the city, much of the focus being around diesel engines. However, recent research has found that not all air pollution from road traffic comes from exhaust fumes. In cities, about a half of the particulates come from brake pads and a tenth from tyres. Another quarter comes from traffic just stirring up dirt on roads, so even electric vehicles are implicated in the very real negative health effects of particulates in the air. So the nationwide rollout of 20mph zones is an effective way to deliver significant improvements in air quality, along with reductions in road casualties.
Lastly, everyone is happy to talk about driverless cars. The debate continues about how we might make a transition to the UK’s fleet being made up of 100% driverless (if this is even possible), and what, if any, infrastructure will be needed to ensure these are as safe as they can be. One thing is for sure, taking the human element out of the equation, as the level of distraction within vehicles increases, is set to have the most significant impact on road safety and allow us to continue to drive down the number of injuries on our roads.