Gaist supports Dorset innovation on road network


Dorset Council is the local authority for the Dorset unitary authority, England. It was created in April 2019 to administer most of the area formerly administered by Dorset County Council, which was previously subdivided into the districts of Weymouth and Portland, West Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, and East Dorset. Dorset covers an area of 2,653 square kilometres (1,024 sq miles) and borders Devon to the west, Somerset to the north-west, Wiltshire to the north-east, and Hampshire to the east.

Dorset Highways’ approach to asset management will align to those documented in the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) Highways Infrastructure Asset Management Guidance document, whilst also adopting a risk-based approach to maintenance, as promoted in Well Managed Highway Infrastructure.

According to its current Highways Asset Management Plan, for carriageways, footways and cycle tracks/paths, Dorset has 368km of A class roads, 382km of B class roads, 1,110km of C class roads, 1933km of D class roads, 2,250km of footways and 145km of cycleways.

Dorset’s road network is a £3.5billion asset and is critical infrastructure that links business and communities and is fundamental to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of all members of the community. The Highways Asset Management Plan and other similar documents are currently being reviewed following the formation of the new Dorset Council.

The challenge:

Recent investment into carriageways has been below that required to hold condition across the network, therefore strategies intended to gain maximum return on investment are implemented, together with a risk-based approach, as promoted by Well Managed Highway Infrastructure. This has included a departure from extensive inlay schemes, to inlay patching, combined with surface treatments.

Another significant objective is to improve the quality of road condition data. Initially Dorset worked with Gaist and other companies to trial a survey on the unclassified part of the network, using Gaist’s high definition cameras. Straight away, it was noted that the cameras were able to fill in a knowledge gap by giving detailed information on the condition of the county’s minor roads and roundabouts which are not surveyed by SCANNER.

“We have been using SCANNER for a long-time now but have been challenging some of the outputs we have been receiving from the data,” says Michael Hansford, “There are examples of the data telling me that we had significant problems on roads that weren’t that old, and when this data was used to generate schemes, this began to create trust issues between us and our designers who were also questioning the data. This meant there was a much higher scrutiny of the data in general and we also noticed problems with texture, and it throwing up a lot more false negatives around cracking that wasn’t necessary there but it was simply debris that was registering that on the system. All this really led to us de-valuing the data that we had,” he adds.

The solution:

Dorset brought Gaist on board to provide a much higher level of accurate data so that effectively the council could start to build up a real picture of what condition our roads were in and what actually needed to be prioritised. “The thing that struck me the most about this was the ability for the Gaist system to report on defective area specifically rather than km lengths, therefore to the nearest point where there were defects on a stretch of road rather than just flag up the whole road as having problems. This has been a game-changer for us. It means that if only, for example, a 100m is affected in some way we might only have to do structural repairs to one edge of the road and not the whole road. This has obviously led to us being more targeted, more focused and effective and efficient with our repair work rather than a ‘blanket coverage’ approach which we had to adopt before,” says Mr Hansford. “This has turned our model for ways of working on its head. It changes everything and can influence our lifecycle models massively” he adds.

“We’re now working with a Highways Executive Advisory Panel of members, and my presentations to this Panel have included demonstrating value in investing in early life interventions and cyclic maintenance (to keep the water off the roads). The Gaist data has helped support this strategy, identifying suitable sites for surface treatment, and smaller defective areas only, so we can focus on that smaller planned repair, and effecting a surface treatment to the wider carriageway at a future date. This will feature in our revised strategies for carriageways,” says Mr Hansford.

“I have also been fascinated with the introduction of AI in Gaist’s work and think it time that will bring even more certainty to the work it is doing as a company on data. It would be good to perhaps consider a hybrid of technologies. The technology that works in SCANNER (rutting) combined with other technologies to identify other defect types, although it is also anticipated that AI is a possible solution to the rutting defects measure,” says Mr Hansford.

Dorset is keen to use the surveys to improve its knowledge of other assets as well. “The ability to be able to identify signs and generally improve our asset inventory is a bonus also. We need to get to the point where the data can inform a situation where we can properly look at cross-asset prioritisation and make more effective and accurate projections on investment. The Gaist data can help us to do that and also look at material type and give us a trigger for treatment which will also inform better decision making on when to intervene and when not,” says Mr Hansford.

“I believe that some of the biggest developments in the highways sector have been made through innovation and fortunately the Gaist work definitely falls into that category.”

What the local authority said:

“I believe that some of the biggest developments in the highways sector have been made through innovation and fortunately the Gaist work definitely falls into that category.”

Michael Hansford, Asset & Performance Manager at Dorset Council