Highways England could be given around £30bn in the next road investment strategy period as the government body aims to incorporate new technology into the network.
Highways England strategy and planning executive director Elliot Shaw said: “We aspire [that] this will be a circa £30bn programme updating both our motorways and A roads. That is both a good thing for our customers and our supply chain.”
The road operator will combine its physical assets with digital technology to create smart infrastructure “to enable faster response times and proactive management.”
The report is being used to inform the government’s planning for the next Road Investment Strategy, RIS2.
Highways England says that in RIS2 it wants to focus on areas including operations, maintenance and renewals, building the smart motorway spine of the network, rolling out expressways, and preparing for the future.
Institution of Mechanical Engineers head of transport and manufacturing Philippa Oldham was critical of the report and said: “It [Highways England] also needs to provide more detail on the practical implications. Take the example of integrating driverless vehicles into the current transport network – we will need to standardise road signage and road markings to enable driverless vehicles to operate in the safest way possible.”
On the subject of autonomous vehicles Shaw added: “We put something in the initial report, but I think we are conscious that actually more work is needed, because there is actually quite a lot of uncertainty around this…Do we need to enable more wireless connectivity on our roads, using some of the fibres that are on our roads and using that to create a 5g network to enable cars to have appropriate communication with each other.”
He continued: “I think there is some uncertainty around the operations of our roads… I think in particular in the transition period as autonomous vehicles come to the fore…if you have a mixture of platooning vehicles, autonomous vehicles and traditional vehicles, how do you operate that? There is a need for the infrastructure and the operator to connect directly and communicate directly with those vehicles.”
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.”
Technology that allows cars to inform Highways England about potholes is outlined in the report and self-repairing roads will soon be trialled, the strategy said.