How digital engineering will change Highways England projects.
Four years ago Highways England claimed it was at the start of a new era – a “generational” investment of cash for road improvements. The current funding period, which lasts until 2020, was designed to finally give the supply chain longer term visibility of the workload pipeline so it could invest in skills and innovation.
Now Highways England is claiming to be at the dawn of another new era as it gears up for the second Roads Investment Strategy (RIS) period, which will run from 2020 to 2025.
But this time as well as talk about cash – £23.3bn is lined up for it – the strategic roads authority is talking about its transformation into a body that is better at managing projects and that is a leader in technology and innovation.
Driving this is Peter Mumford, its executive director of major projects and capital portfolio management who formally took up the post a year ago. He is buoyant and bullish about what must be done over the next few years. Mumford’s language reflects his background in engineering consultancies and is in line with where Highways England wants to be. For example, he refers to the organisation becoming a “capable owner” – a term from the ICE’s Project 13 initiative – and talks about enterprises delivering outcomes, as opposed to civils firms building roads. But despite this transformation, what it wants from the supply chain remains distinctly familiar.
“As we have grown and matured as an organisation, one of the things we work hard on is maintaining a degree of simplicity in what we do and the old mantra of on time, on budget and to scope remains at the centre of what we do,” he says.
So, what does Highways England plan to do and how does it want the supply chain to do it?
Highways England’s new Routes to Market strategy has work split into different tranches, such as complex infrastructure projects covering big ticket items like the A303 Stonehenge tunnel and smart motorways alliances. The cornerstone is the recently awarded £8.7bn Regional Delivery Partnership (RDP) framework.
There are five broad goals for RIS2, and all are designed to improve project delivery. One of them is delivery on time and on budget.
Another of these goals, just mentioned, is the concept of Highways England being a capable owner. But what does Mumford mean by that?
He says he does not want to place demands and expectations on the supply chain which it cannot then adequately support. Instead it wants to make sure everyone is aligned to the same areas of safety, customer experience and delivery.
“We have to be mindful of the way we are organised and of capability and capacity at Highways England. We don’t want inconsistency between what we ask the market to do and their interface with us,” he explains.
The body’s project management has in recent times come under fire from roads regulator the Office for Rail & Road, which says costs and scope for major schemes at the beginning of RIS1 were underestimated, meaning a number of schemes have either been cancelled, paused or pushed back into RIS2.
We don’t want inconsistency between what we ask the market to do and their interface with us
Highways England hopes it will only have to spend around £301M to fund the difference. Mumford says that its programme delivery transformation work is on track to be finished by June next year, but understandably he is keen not to repeat the same mistakes.
Improved productivity is one of the key goals for RIS2. Mumford wants projects to incorporate innovations such as prefabrication, coupled with continued improvement in other areas.
“It will be a combination of big impact items which will bear fruit for us in years to come and getting smaller things out as a new norm,” he says.
This means that while Mumford wants the supply chain to deliver major innovations, he also wants to see productivity improvements in Highways England’s day to day work. He cites the example of pavements next to smart motorways where new plant and machinery can cut a slab into four parts and use a vacuum tool to lift it out of the ground and place it on a lorry, instead of this work being done manually. It cuts that job down from hours to 15 minutes.
Highways England has also been working on customer experience and improving this is another key aim for RIS2. So, engineers working on motorways expect to the default speed for vehicles through roadworks rising from 50mph to 60mph – if it is safe to do so.
Mumford also says he wants to reduce the length of roadworks – both the physical length and more importantly the time it takes to do them.
With the RDP framework procurement finalised, the supply chain is putting bids together for the £4.5bn smart motorways alliances procurement programme.
Within these alliances the highway authority becomes an integral partner of the alliance alongside three on-site delivery partners, two design partners and one production management partner.
Mumford says that digital and technological capability, the fifth of his goals for delivering RIS2, is key to winning work with Highways England. For smart motorways he is looking to work with an “industry leader” and wants bids from those firms which understand the “productionisation” of infrastructure and can roll that out to generate efficiencies.
But that does not mean that all the engineering consultancies currently realigning themselves as technology firms have a shoo-in for the work. He says he is open to new entrants too.
What I’m interested in is having the right people in the right roles and the right value added skills set at the table
“What I’m interested in is having the right people in the right roles and the right value added skills set at the table. I’m more interested in that than the company brands bringing these people,” he says.
One of the elements of work for these alliances will be the new rapid engineering model, which has already been tested against the original design process for the M1 junction 23a to junction 25 smart motorway, and shown to work.
The model looks at the safety and engineering standard for smart motorways (IAN 161) and tests the design against this – for instance, for emergency areas and gantries which have a standard distance, specification and relationship to other objects within the design. It also tested for any clashes, work that would have been done manually before.
Mumford is expecting the digital design and construction capability to be there by 2020 and will roll this out across Highways England so that it becomes the “expected norm” across its portfolio.