Road sector promoting collaboration and innovation

During the recent challenging and uncertain times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the road surface industry has welcomed the government recognition of its essential role and additional funding. It must reward that with continued innovation and a readiness to embrace the new, believes Paul Boss, the new chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA)

In recognition of the economic and social importance of road maintenance in ensuring a resilient and safe road network, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Transport Minister for Road, Buses and Places, sent a letter to the UK’s highway construction and maintenance workers thanking them for doing an ‘outstanding job under extremely challenging circumstances’ and urging the sector to examine opportunities to accelerate road works whilst roads were quieter than usual. This recognition was welcomed by the sector, as was the government’s announcement to invest an additional £2.5 billion Transport Infrastructure Fund to improve roads, repair bridges and fill in over 11 million potholes.

Although welcomed, neither announcement can diminish the significant challenges facing local road authorities and their supply chains to deliver ever-more sophisticated solutions that are safe, sustainable and cost-effective. Above all, it is predicted that the challenge of ‘doing more for less’ will intensify as the government tries to recoup the billions that the pandemic has cost the economy

Local authorities and road surface firms have responded with initiatives and products that prove the value of questioning the current ways of undertaking road maintenance, that ‘think outside the box’ and recognise that innovative approaches can make a real difference.

One example of new thinking is the Project Amber collaborative initiative launched and developed by Blackpool Council with the support of the Local Councils Road Innovation Group (LCRIG) and the RSTA. Project Amber is a road asset management strategy that involves the supply chain in examining and forwarding innovative road maintenance materials and techniques. Importantly, the initiative aims to proactively intervene with a range of highway surface treatments at the appropriate time rather than leave road to deteriorate to the point where larger scale and more expensive disruptive reconstruction is required. This is aided by the use of Gaist survey and mapping advanced technology that provides detailed knowledge and understanding of how the roads infrastructure is performing.

In another innovative first for Blackpool, the council believes that it is the first in the UK to use satellite image capturing to identify craters in the roads in seconds. The high-tech scheme has so far filled 5,145 potholes and saved the council £1 million in repair and manpower costs. The technology detects the damage before using a colour coding system to inform engineers on what action to take. The establishment of Project Amber and the use of artificial intelligence shows what can be achieved when local authorities collaborate and work in partnership with the supply chain to achieve lower whole life costs in highway maintenance by ensuring that the right surface treatment is used at the right time.

Collaboration is key
For its part, the RSTA aims to acts as a conduit between the highway authorities and the supply chain in forwarding best practice and providing a forum for innovation. To this end LCRIG and RSTA have held a number of technical training days attended by local authorities and the supply chain that examine the potential of new thinking and the benefits of sharing experience and good practice to get the most out of highway budgets.

Other collaborative local authority alliances include the Midlands Highway Alliance, the South West Highways Alliance, and the Eastern Highways Alliance. All are committed to collaboration and the sharing of experience and best practice.

Collaboration with local authorities encourages the supply chain to invest in developing new products and processes. RSTA members have recently developed and launched new curing agents that improve the durability of road markings, new hot lay asphalts that include over 50% recycled materials and has better handling characteristics and a road surface made partly from old tyres otherwise destined for landfill. It is not only new road surface treatments that are being developed, new advances in plant are increasing the efficiency of treatment installation and productivity.

These are just a few examples of how the road surface treatments sector is working closely with highway authorities to develop new effective weapons against road deterioration and potholes. They are the results of innovative thinking that questions previous and current approaches and forwards new smarter ways of working.

Smart ways of working means embracing best practice and the RSTA is reviewing and updating its extensive library of best practice guidance. Recently published is new guidance for the application of surface course preservation. Asphalt preservation involves the spray application of a sealant treatment onto bituminous-bound road surfaces that consequently restricts water ingress and inhibits binder oxidation. By providing a protective seal, the treatment can significantly extend the resilience and performance life of an asphalt road surface. The technique can be used as part of an asset management strategy designed to maintain network condition by keeping green roads in green condition for longer, delaying the need for reactive maintenance. Specified in clause 950 in the Specification for Highway Works, asphalt preservation is an effective and cost-efficient road surface treatment that has been used in the UK since the 1990’s. The new guidance note provides information on the right way to apply asphalt preservation treatments and gives practical advice to both client and contractor.

The government is a strong advocate of innovation for the road maintenance sector. The Department for Transport’s Highway Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) has as its central objectives the need for the sector to continuously seek new and improved ways of delivering road maintenance and to develop collaborative partnerships that improve processes and outcomes. This is further underlined by last year’s report Local Roads Funding and Maintenance: Filling the Gap from the House of Commons Transport Select Committee. The report emphasised that innovation is essential in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local road maintenance.

RSTA and the road maintenance sector are ready to play their part. They are ready to work with both central and local government to share best practice and experience and to develop and bring to market new products and processes that will further improve the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of road surface treatments.

Further Information: