Meeting The Future Challenges of Our Road Network

Nick Burman, Business Development Director at FM Conway, explains the industry's increased investment and focus to future-proofing the strategic road network. 

Much of our road network, including local and strategic routes, dates from the last century and the major road building programmes of the 1960s and 70s. Since then, we’ve seen a continuous process of investment and development to maintain this network to support the country’s economic prosperity and – ultimately – keep people moving.

However, we are now reaching a point where more significant reform and investment is needed to meet new challenges – from tackling the degradation of parts of the network due to their age and increased road use on key routes, to changes to our climate in the form of wetter winters and drier summers, which are putting extra strain on the structure of our roads. 

As a result, we’re now seeing a step-change in the goals and ambitions for the network. Through the Road Investment Strategy (RIS) 2015 – 2020, Highways England is delivering a £15.2 billion investment in 100 major schemes across the country, from the reconstruction of junctions to the introduction of smart motorways and the creation of new link roads. 

The primary goals of the RIS are to transform connectivity, capacity and the condition of the network, but also to leave a lasting legacy for the highways and construction sectors in terms of providing the skills, materials and collaborative practices that will help meet England’s long-term requirements from its highways. 

One of the biggest challenges we face is to use materials more sustainably, in order to minimise the environmental impact of road investment, but also ensure that the work being undertaken now is resilient to future wear and tear. 

Innovation in materials has been a major focus for our business for the last 20 years. Reducing reliance on virgin aggregates, especially in the South East where these are geographically scarce, is part of the reason for our own focus on developing stronger, high-performance recycled mixes which perform in the same way as virgin material. Through our investment in producing our own polymer modified bitumen, there is also huge potential to improve durability if used in the lower layers of the road – reducing lifetime costs for maintaining the network. 

Delivering the investment we need in our roads needs to deal with the twin challenges of maintaining cost efficiency, but also minimising disruption when more people than ever are using the network. 

Just as new materials can help to improve the performance of the network, there is huge potential to bring greater cost-efficiencies in capital expenditure through introducing new and better working practices, which maximise the use of tight working windows and ensure close collaboration across the supply chain. 

Adopting new methods provides the opportunity to reduce disruption to the travelling public too, delivering journeys that are reliable and comfortable. 

As we gear up for major investment in the road network, we need to make sure that the health, safety and well-being of our people, as well as that of the travelling public, is front of mind at all times. 

Working on an increasingly busy network – especially on high speed strategic routes - brings new challenges with regards to health and safety, placing a greater emphasis on risk assessment, skills and close collaboration across the supply chain. 
We’re seeing a strong shift away from health and safety from being simply a box-ticking exercise based on standard procedures, towards a truly behavioural programme of practices and skills that are absolutely embedded in how we maintain and develop our roads. 

Our own behavioural programme around health and safety – People First – has championed many of these big themes for some time and has seen us roll out major new initiatives to help ensure teams and customers stay safe. Our near miss app – which allows drivers to report when they’ve come too close to an accident – encourages teams to focus on their actions on the road, while our early adoption of the ISO39001 standard continues to be a mark of how important road safety is to our operations.