Better journeys - next exit 

Dave Spencer, Managing Director Consulting and International
10 April 2017
Image of the Dartford crossing
Speak to an expert about your challenge

According to the Department for Transport, motorways account for less than 1% of the country’s road network, and yet they carry nearly 21% of all traffic. Not only are most people’s journey’s made by road, it’s also the main method of transporting freight – with almost three times more goods moved by road than rail, despite an 80% rise in rail freight since 1995. This massive demand for increasing capacity and reliable journey times means we need to develop smarter, more intelligent engineering solutions to help make the network fit for 21st century demands.

I travel a lot, and I spend a great deal of time on motorways, particularly the M6 between Lancashire and Birmingham – so I know that traffic doesn’t always flow as well as it could do. But behind the cones, the work to make at least part of this stretch of road ‘smart’, is well underway and this will have a positive impact on the motorist experience.

Un-relenting demand for mobility

The seemingly un-relenting demand on our motorway network has meant that we need to be smarter about how we design, build and manage motorways. The M25 motorway is perhaps a classic example of how organisations, like Amey, are working and designing more intelligently to make our journeys better.

The innovative orbital M25 motorway, took a decade to build in the mid-70s and 80s, but by the early 1990s was already a victim of its own success. There were significant capacity issues and I was then working to maximise lane space and help keep more traffic flowing within the existing land-take. While the work I and many others were doing over twenty years ago might have seemed pioneering at that time, thankfully technology is now helping us make further and greater improvements.

We’ve made central reservations half the size as their traditional counterparts and the use of BIM technology is helping us to solve the challenges for designer, constructor and maintainer, associated with the congestion of many interweaving components. Whilst we fit together the intricate jigsaw puzzle of drainage, lighting columns, power cables, safety barriers and the like, we also keep open six lanes of live traffic to help people make the journeys they need.

Hardshoulders require similar treatment, not only to be available in emergency situations, but to become running lanes and increase capacity at peak times. With the use of technology they can both detect and manage our increasing traffic volumes, in order to optimise the traffic flow.

Smarter Motorways require even smarter maintenance

But of course building truly ‘smart’ motorways isn’t about comparisons with what we did 20 years ago, or indeed what we can achieve today – it needs to be about how we can learn from this and prepare ourselves for what needs to be done next.

Thankfully technology improvements will increase our range of options as the un-relenting demand for mobility also continues. We will therefore be able to design for  the needs of autonomous vehicles, for which the smart motorways of tomorrow will surely have to facilitate, much closer vehicle spacing, remote speed controllers, automated re-routing, collision prevention, and even the recharging of vehicles ‘on the go’.   

So, we’re already starting to look at the next generation of smart motorways and how they might be operated, but we know that really smart engineering will also be required for the maintenance of this smarter infrastructure, on which we all increasingly rely on.  

Speak to an expert about your challenge.