Scheming Our Way To A Better Road Network?
With Highways Magazine reporting councils’ capital funding at ‘£400m lower in each of the last two years compared to 2021’ and the LGA reporting inflationary pressures, ‘coupled with soaring inflation/making it increasingly harder for councils to keep our roads in good condition’, it is clear highways engineers are facing an uphill struggle to effectively address the reported £12 billion backlog in local road repair backlogs.
In spite of the current pressures facing highways engineers, maintaining the highway network through careful use of limited budgets is nothing new and whilst there is no easy solution to the ongoing problem, there are opportunities.
A short history of schemes in the context of highways maintenance
The use of scheme identification in highways has been a common practice in the UK for many years, but it is difficult to pinpoint an exact starting date when usage became widespread or how they developed. As one example the UK Highways Agency, now known as Highways England, has been using scheme identification codes since at least the 1980s to uniquely identify and track individual highway improvement projects. However, it is widely accepted that, on local roads at least, programmed maintenance has been used for a long time based on local knowledge.
In a modern-day context, the approach has become more widespread globally as best practice in highway management and maintenance. With the advancement of computerised data management systems and data collection, the possibilities for ever more effective scheme identification and implementation have grown.
What, Where, When and How
To set out the terms in which I’m referring to ‘schemes’- as commonly used in road maintenance- we are talking about planned projects or initiatives aimed at improving or maintaining the condition, functionality, and safety of roads. Schemes are planned and executed based on the road network's condition, budgetary constraints, prioritization criteria, and the specific needs and objectives of the road authority or maintenance agency.
A vital part of the scheme process is identifying not just where maintenance is required, but also what type of maintenance is suitable – and how each location is prioritised against data-led criteria which can be evidenced to members and the public.
In essence, having effective scheme identification processes informs the what, where and when for highways maintenance programmes whilst also enabling Highway teams to communicate how these decisions were made in a consistent way.
As with many aspects of modern data-led approaches to highways maintenance, the effective creation and implementation of scheme modelling in this way relies heavily on accurate condition data. Thankfully high-quality data is attainable in a way it wasn’t 20 years ago which forms the foundation for advanced scheme identification.
The most advanced scheme modelling today uses this condition data as the primary input to produce reliable and accurate outputs on carriageways and footways. The potential outputs include area measurements and specific treatment options and cost estimates per scheme based on local priorities. There is no minimum or maximum area for treatment options, the parameters can be set to cover small scale patching all the way to surface treatments covering multiple roads. This means that the data is accurate and specific to the road network and it closely matches local maintenance policies and provides accurate costed treatment options.
Moreover, the process can now be iterative, meaning that far from a black box approach to schemes (data in and schemes out with no consultation), the user or in-house data analyst can be actively engaged in the process throughout, making tweaks to scheme parameters at any point to produce the best results for their maintenance programme.
All plotted on a map in the highways engineer’s data platform, the latest scheme identification techniques provide a way of managing resources and achieving the best outputs in a way that could only be dreamed of in decades previous.
Into the Future
Using a model built around your condition and other data, it is possible to review and update in following years, providing a quicker and more efficient method of getting the most from condition data through to deciding works on the ground year on year. For many highways engineers this provides an auditable way of ensuring every penny spent on highways maintenance goes where it is most needed and giving clear and transparent reporting on how identification and prioritisation of scheme locations is achieved.
With the financial and logistical pressures faced by highways departments in the face of a huge road repair backlog, the latest approaches to scheme maintenance can provide a new way of approaching road repairs. Even though the money available to perform road maintenance is likely to be restricted for the foreseeable future, using the latest scheme identification processes could be a way of maximising the limited resources available to highways engineers.
I hope you found this interesting! If you’d like to know more about Gaist’s work in this area, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
A vital part of the scheme process is identifying not just where maintenance is required, but also what type of maintenance is suitable – and how each location is prioritised against data-led criteria which can be evidenced to members and the public. "