Self-repairing smart road surfaces that change colour when ice starts to form are what road users want. So says BBC Radio 4 journalist Alun Lewis, once a civil engineer, whose light-hearted look at public attitudes to the asphalt industry opened last Wednesday's conference. Lewis was reporting on an informal survey he had carried out in preparation for his contribution. He had spoken to a wide range of surfacing users, from Formula 1 designers to old age pensioners, and his sometimes outrageous conclusions initially stunned the audience.
Progress on environmental issues should be promoted as much as performance improvement, Lewis argued. And the surfacing industry should be more proactive in setting up co-operative development with end users, be they Formula 1 chassis engineers, road tyre manufacturers or airport operators.
'Meeting even lower future noise standards will not be possible without such co-operation,' he warned.
Lewis said he had put together a 'wish list' of improved surfacing materials from his research, some of which was serious, some fanciful, but all theoretically achievable. 'How about a permanent reinstatement for cable trenches, or a 'stone-free' surface for airport runways AND a simple method for cleaning rubber off it?' he asked.
'Cyclists would like an alternative to paint for traffic markings and white lines - couldn't they be printed on? Others asked why road surfaces couldn't indicate they needed repair before potholes started forming, or change colour to mark where diesel had been spilled.
'A self-repairing surface made of a material that would slowly ooze into ruts and holes to level them off would be welcome. So would 'invisible, undetectable' manhole covers and road surfaces which warned of ice forming.'
Lewis concluded as he had begun, by warning that the asphalt industry had to take the initiative and take its message to the public and the rest of the construction industry. And he asked the suppliers present: 'Is there no way you could show your pride in your product by branding it in some way, so that road users know what they are driving on?