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Infrastructure in 2014: New routes to a clearer future

Each year I look ahead to the challenges facing the Highways Agency, and each year they look bigger than the year before. My view into 2014 is no exception.

Through 2013 we have focused on keeping traffic flowing, delivering an increasing rate of capital investment, and making the case for long term investment in England’s motorway and trunk road network. We end the year with a clear government policy that sets out investment plans right through to 2021, and with work in hand to transform the Highways Agency into a government owned company that looks and feels like a highly effective infrastructure business. Our four big themes for 2014 will be:

  • Delivery. Whether one of the 10 major projects in construction or the nine to be started during the year; the 120-plus local pinch point schemes; or the 1,300-plus large asset renewal jobs - delivering the planned investment programme on time and to quality remains vital to a better journey for road users and better value for taxpayers
  • Operational performance. Unlike most infrastructure providers, we operate an open network, accommodating every vehicle that wants to use the network. And of course we are vulnerable to disruption when vehicles break down, crash, or lose their loads. Or any of the other things that conspire against us every day. Broadcasting real time traffic information, promoting good vehicle preparation and driver behaviour, and then working slickly to spot and clear incidents makes a real contribution to the national economy. With 36,000 incidents every month, minutes really do count
  • Planning future investment. By the end of 2014 we will be near to completion of a set of route based strategies that cover the whole network. These are essential strategic plans that I have long wanted to do, and that really will relate the vital national strategic network with local transport and development needs. However, in parallel with the route strategies, we will be negotiating a long term road investment strategy with the government, and mobilising design and construction framework contracts for the next five years of major investment - the first £5bn of the investment plan. In some sectors this would be a three-year planning cycle that we need to complete in just one.
  • Change. Preparation for a future as a different corporate entity delivering a threefold increase in work means a big change programme within the agency - making much better use of time and resources, really worrying about customer service, and being more commercially astute.

The Highways Agency runs a heavily outsourced business model. So all these challenges are shared with the businesses that work with us - consultants, contractors and many others. So my challenges are yours too.

Over the Christmas break I will be wondering how to keep increasing volumes of traffic flowing better despite more work on the network. And I will be wondering how to deliver a big increase in investment with a relatively modest increase in people - in other words, how we are all going to much more productive each and every day.

For there simply aren’t enough people to deliver on this network and on the other infrastructure networks if we just carry on doing things like we do today.

Then once we’ve cracked that, I will apply my thoughts to the implications of technology change making the vehicle fleet virtually self driven, and of the increasing momentum of the move to an electrically powered vehicle fleet…..

Looks like another quiet year ahead!

  • Graham Dalton is chief executive at the Highways Agency





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