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Investing in the future of the Strategic Road Network

Highways England published their Strategic Road Network (SRN) Initial Report last month.

But with the report totalling 108 pages and having been released in the run-up to Christmas, we thought working through this might still be on a few people’s to-do list. So, we’ve pulled out the headlines, including: Highways England’s performance, how investment decisions are made and the priorities to improve the network.

The SRN

The SRN is a vital part of the economy, for both people to get to work and for the movement of freight. Casualties on the SRN are some of the lowest in the world—in line with the UK’s rating as the nation with the 4th lowest road deaths per million inhabitants. Highways England are working to improve safety further while tackling congestion and working towards more reliable journey times.

Investment decisions

Feeding into future investment decisions is insight from Transport Focus (the transport user watchdog), direct feedback from customers and that from stakeholders (including sub-national transport bodies, business representatives, local authorities, government bodies and infrastructure providers). Feedback from these groups can be summarised into road users wanting safe and stress-free journeys, which they feel in control of. They also want a trusted, two-way relationship with road operators.

Investment priorities

Highways England have identified five key areas for investment for the next (2020-2025) funding period:

  1. The operation of the SRN
    This includes:
    • operational support provided to keep the SRN running smoothly, for example improved control room technology;
    • customer service, with a large focus on roadworks;
    • better information—provided via roadside variable message signs (VMS);
    • more reliable journey times, which includes reopening roads rapidly, finding appropriate diversion routes and better preparation for extreme weather events;
    • seamless journeys with data sharing across county boundaries;
    • managing smart motorways and expressways;
    • preparing for electric, connected and autonomous vehicles.
  2. Infrastructure Maintenance
    Improving the condition of the existing infrastructure, the majority of which was built in the 1960s and 70s, is necessary for Highways England to meet the priorities of keeping user’s safe, moving and supporting economic growth. Traffic is forecast to grow by as much as 31% by 2041, so further capacity is needed if journey times are to be kept at today’s averages. The network also requires updating to deal with the future vehicle trends of electrification, connected and autonomous vehicles.
  3. Enhancing the network
    Primary focuses for enhancing the network centre on continuing to develop the smart motorway spine to the network, modernising the busiest A-roads into expressways, completing the new schemes currently under construction, and completing the eight studies considering some of the most significant challenges on the SRN. New studies and schemes will also be considered within the next funding period.
  4. Focusing the use of designated funds
    The designated funds allow investments beyond the core functions of Highways England. They plan to focus these funds on economic growth and housing, the environment, aiding sustainable travel choices and improving roadside facilities.
  5. The efficient running of Highways England
    This includes investment in staff costs, IT infrastructure, and facilities.

Whilst understandably high level, the SRN Initial report does start the process of setting the priorities that will help Highways England move closer to meeting the needs of road users by providing safe and reliable travel. Our vision, at Clearview Intelligence is for a world where journeys are easy, efficient and safe. In working to meet these needs we have a shared ambition with Highways England.

What can be done now to help people make better journeys?

We believe journeys can be made easier through information sharing between road operators and users, in particular sharing journey time information, roadwork plans, as well as parking information so users can complete their journey with ease. Increasing the size of the network as well as understanding traffic flow will improve efficiency, while targeting the most dangerous driving conditions and sections of the network will provide the greatest safety benefits.

While confident that Highways England will meet these priorities, our own research conducted at the latest Highways UK event suggests that local authorities and road operators need to be aware of and face up to barriers to implementing new technologies. Most respondents rated financial constraints (42%) as the most significant obstacle due to the lack of available budgets for highways projects combined with Government constraints on infrastructure spending. A further one in three (32%) felt unwillingness to change and aversion to risk were key challenges. These barriers need tackling for whole journeys to improve for every road users.

A consultation on Shaping the future of England’s strategic roads (RIS2) is now open. Led by the Department for Transport the consultation seeks opinions on the aims and priorities set out in the Initial Report. It forms the next stop on Highways England’s journey to deliver a new Road Investment Strategy and will close on the 7th February 2018.

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