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Highways England maps out plan to spend £27.4bn package

The roll-out of smart motorways, digital solutions for operations, construction and communications with customers, and a pledge to halve road fatalities by 2025, feature in Highways England’s new business plan

Deniz Huseyin
07 September 2020


Highways England has set out its strategy for delivering the government’s second five-year Road Investment Strategy (RIS). In March, as part of the Budget, the Chancellor announced investment of £27.4bn for 2020 to 2025 (LTT 20 March).

This is the second RIS period, with the DfT announcing the size of this funding pot is 60 per cent greater than the £17bn of RSI1, which ended in April. The big increase reflects the change in how Highways England is funded. Since April Vehicle Excise Duty in England have been ring-fenced into a National Roads Fund (NRF) to cover the cost of all of HE’s activities. There will also be money for improvements to the Major Road Network of the most important local authority roads.

HE’s Strategic Business Plan offers details of specific funding, activities and projects for the second road period as well as detailing how it will approach efficiency and risk management.

“We aim to at least halve the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads by the end of 2025, against the 2005-2009 annual average baseline,” states the report. “Achieving this target will keep us on course to reach our goal of zero harm on our network by 2040.”

Enhancement schemes

Of the RIS2 package, £14.2bn will be spent on enhancement schemes, providing a projected benefit of £27bn to customers, local communities and the wider economy (see panel left). “These benefits will come from improved journey times and access to employment and housing developments.”

The plan comprises 25 schemes that began in the first road period, along with construction on 12 new schemes, and more than 30 pipeline schemes. “Every part of the country will see the positive effect of our investment. We will improve connectivity and enable safe, reliable and timely journeys. By responding to local growth priorities and increasing productivity, we will also help government build a stronger, more balanced economy.”

On average, a major enhancement scheme takes eight years from the start of development to road opening, including extensive consultation, says the report.

HE is seeking more collaborative working to improve integration with wider transport infrastructure across the country. “This will help our customers travel more easily, support businesses to operate more effectively, and provide better access to ports and airports. Our schemes will improve resilience and connections between ports, helping prepare for the forecast increased demand for freight capacity.”

A range of innovations and improvements will enable efficiencies of £2.23bn during the second road period, HE estimates. “This will mean that our customers will see even more investment for their money than has been possible in the past. With funding now directly linked to the money that people pay through vehicle tax, we recognise that efficient delivery, alongside excellent customer service and responsiveness, is more important than ever.”

The Strategic Business Plan will support Government aims to make the UK a more attractive place to trade, invest and visit by “transformational investment” in key strategic and economic routes. 

This will involve ensuring good progress on major strategic schemes announced in the first RIS period including the upgrade of the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine route. The entire east-west route between the A1(M) and the M6 will become dual carriageway. “We will start construction over the next five years, and deliver this work as a single coordinated programme into the following road periods,” says HE.

It also plans to press ahead with other flagship projects, such as the Lower Thames Crossing. According to the business plan’s projections, more than 27 million vehicles will use the Lower Thames Crossing in its first year of operation, and of these 4.5 million will be heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

 Other projects include the A303 and A358 between the M3 and the M5 to provide a “high-quality” south-west connection. “We will also begin construction of a tunnel near Stonehenge, the largest environmental improvement ever made to one of our roads.”

A host of other schemes have also been earmarked to upgrades (see panel right).

Smart motorways

Another core objective in the plan is to explore how to make smart motorways safer than conventional motorways. In March the government published its Smart Motorway Safety Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan. HE has pledged to directly deliver 17 of the 18 actions in the stocktake and said it will support the DfT in delivering the remaining one. 

All dynamic hard shoulder motorways will be upgraded to lane running, converting the hard shoulder into a permanent traffic lane by March 2025, HE says.

“We will roll out stopped vehicle detection to existing all lane running smart motorway by the end of March 2023 with a clear public timeline.” HE says it has already trialled this system on two smart motorway sections of the M25. “The system uses radar technology to detect stationary vehicles. It can alert a control centre operator, who can see the incident on camera, close lanes and dispatch traffic officers. This will help motorists who do have a live lane breakdown and are unable to get to an emergency area.”

By December 2020 HE aims to complete a large-scale trial of a system that analyses CCTV images. The trial will identify the viability of using CCTV coverage on smart motorways to provide another option alongside stopped vehicle detection.

A new procedure will reduce the distance between safe places to stop on smart motorways to a maximum of one mile. The aim is to reduce attendance time by traffic officer patrols from an average of 17 minutes to 10 minutes, and to reach those who need assistance quicker. Full coverage of the areas where this will be apply is due to be in place by July 2021.

Another target in the plan is for ten additional emergency areas to be built on the M25 by December 2020. These will be on the sections of smart motorway with a higher rate of live lane stops, which coincides with the biggest spacing between places to stop in an emergency. HE says it will closely monitor and evaluate the impact of these additional emergency areas on the level of live lane stops.

Information will be made available to SatNav providers to allow identification of emergency areas on their systems, if requested. “We will work with providers and create a database of our emergency areas to enable them to use and display the information.” 

This location information is due to be available to SatNav providers by March 2021. “We will engage with car manufacturers by November 2020 to understand how we can help build greater awareness and understanding of ‘eCall’ or SOS buttons. Increasing numbers of new cars come with these buttons, which can be used to call for help in the event of a breakdown or emergency anywhere on the roads, not just on smart motorways.”

HE says it will take a lead role in the review of the Highway Code, now under consultation, to provide more guidance for motorists on smart motorway driving, including emergency area signage.

ln an effort to reduce the design and build period of new schemes, HE will introduce the next generation of its Rapid Engineering Model. This will use data analytics and modular construction to create a “lean” supply chain. Automatic digital design methods will analyse three-dimensional topograhic and enviroment data “to help identify opportunities and risks within a specific project, or along an entire asset in our network”.

This has cut design time from months to weeks and means that options for schemes can be produced and assessed much faster, says HE.

Preparing for a digital age

The report also explains what steps are being taken to prepare for the rise of connected and autonomous vehicles over the next 30 years. This is set to “radically change travel as we know it”. Connected systems will allow better information direct to users, “while autonomy could increase people’s mobility, reduce incidents and improve national productivity. Our roads, our infrastructure and even our ways of working will need to change to embrace and enable this new way of travelling”.

Digital roads is a concept based on using connectivity, data and technology to improve the way the SRN is designed, built, operated and used, says HE. “We will invest in our digital capabilities to drive fundamental shifts in the way we work across three core areas. This could lead to providing better information directly to customers based on real-time data, an increase in remote asset monitoring, and further efficiencies in project design and delivery.”

A shift to digital design and construction will result in activities increasingly being automated, modular and conducted off-site. “This will result in safer production, increased productivity, reduced disruption on our roads, ad smoother journeys for our customers.”

The digital roads system will mean that customers will access reliable, high-quality information without having to seek it out. “Our operations will use data to drive increasingly pre-emptive interventions, leading to a safer, smoother running network with increased asset life and reduced asset failure,” the report states. A package of activities to promote safer roads, safer vehicles and coordinated collision response will be developed in a bid to reduce incident severity. HE says it will use its Safety and Congestion Fund to deliver targeted schemes across the country “to improve safety, reduce congestion and support economic development”.

HE’s specialist teams are testing new products, including road surfacing materials, to evaluate the potential safety benefits. Alongside traditional road safety engineering measures, HE says it will explore new methods such as sharing driver information and collaborating with police and safety partners to influence driver behaviour.

Other developments include a partnership agreement with the independent recovery industry to set out several initiatives. These include identifying ways of improving safety for recovery operators through educational material and information promoting safe working practices on the SRN. HE says it will review “touchpoints” and activities with the recovery industry, and develop a plan for improving engagement and partnership working by September 2020.

Another ambition set out in the repot is to work more efficiently with contractors to create a network of suppliers “trusted to deliver ahead of time and below budget, without compromising on safety and delivery”.

This will encourage innovation, with suppliers rewarded based on performance. “Our funding certainty means we can provide a pipeline of work, helping suppliers invest in new techniques and training to provide greater efficiency”. 

Supporting active travel

More will be done to improve the network across to country for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, says HE. It points to plans along the A14 corridor to improve access. “These projects include extending an existing cycle path ending in Girton to provide a route into Cambridge. They also include providing a pedestrian and cycle path between Bar Hill and Longstanton.”

HE says it contributed £3.4m to this package of measures, which attracted £1.5m from partner matach funding.

More will be done to protect those that walk, cycle and ride, states the report. “We will use our Safety and Congestion Fund, and our Users and Communities Fund to deliver local schemes to improve their experiences. 

“This could include improving existing crossings or providing new ones, enhancing or installing new cycle lanes, and improving signs. We will also identify opportunities within our enhancement schemes to deliver local benefits to these groups.”

How budget for the second road period will be invested

£14.2bn: Enhancement schemes – investing in large schemes to improve the quality and capacity of roads while preparing for a digital future

£10.8bn: Operations, maintenance and renewals – repairing and replacing road surfaces and other assets such as bridges, barriers and signage

£1.1bn: Running the network – investing in HE to develop new technology and improve capabilites and information systems

£936m: Designated funds – delivering projects designed to have wider benefits for customers, neighbouring communities, the environment and the economy, and “addressing issues beyond the traditional focus of road investment”.

£347m: Scheme development – preparing for the third road period and planning for a network that “meets the future needs of the country, our customers and neighbouring communities”.

Breakdown of how the £27.4bn RIS2 budget will be spent (* Highways England said the figures do not add up due to rounding)

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