Highways England looks to connected future in ‘£30bn’ RIS2


Highways England could receive as much £30bn for the next Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) according to new reports, compared with £15bn capital spending in the current RIS.

This coincides with a new funding system where Vehicle Excise Duty will be ringfenced for the SRN and the proposed major road network.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘We are planning to spend more than ever before to upgrade England’s motorways and major A roads from 2020 through to 2025.’

Highways England chief executive Jim O'Sullivan

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said this would mean a real terms increase.

Highways England had publicly given out annual figures of £4bn capital in total and £1bn revenue for RIS2 from 2020-2025.

The news comes as the Government-owned company unveiled an outline vision for the future, which includes intelligent networks coupled with connected vehicles to spot potholes and ‘self-healing’ roads that will improve maintenance and safety. The DfT launched a consultation into the report, which will run until 7 February.

In its Strategic Road Network Initial Report, which looks forward to the RIS2 period, the company says technology will play ‘an increasingly major role in keeping people moving, and the country connected’.

It also stresses the importance of keeping existing roads maintained in a way that minimises disruption. Drones could also be used to fly overhead and report back on incidents, improving response times.

Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: ‘Because people’s journeys are important to us we are setting out our high level aspirations which will help ensure the network continues to drive economic growth, jobs and prosperity, and keeps traffic moving today, and into the future.’

The Highways England report states: ‘The condition of our infrastructure may pose some challenges, the potential for technological developments, such as self-healing surfaces and remote monitoring, also provides us with great opportunities.’

A supporting document describes how the degradation of road assets is already monitored in close to real-time across the network, often based on vehicle feedback and leading to pre-emptive maintenance, and refers to ‘opportunities for incorporating robotic construction and using drones to help inspect and manage our assets’.

Mr O’Sullivan told The Times that a system using a fibre optic network would build on smart motorways by communicating with connected and autonomous vehicles, including directly controlling their speed.

‘Ultimately, our engineers’ dream would be to stop having speed limit signs by the side of the road because you have just broadcast to the car what the speed limit is,’ he said.

The report outlines eight aspirations for the next road period:

  • focus on operations, maintenance and renewals
  • build the smart motorway spine of the network
  • roll out expressways
  • undertake transformational investments
  • deliver a balanced programme
  • renew focus on small schemes
  • deliver through refined designated funds
  • prepare for the future

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