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Balfour envisions self-healing surfaces to end all roadworks

highways england generic

Self-healing roads manufactured offsite and embedded with solar panels are the future of England’s major highways, making roadworks and closures obsolete, according to a Balfour Beatty study.

In its Customer Driven report, Highways England contractor Balfour Beatty set out its vision for making the roads industry more customer-focused and ready for self-driving cars.

The contracting giant revealed its plan to “do away altogether” with roadworks and widening schemes which delay drivers, instead relying on self-healing materials, 3D-printing and offsite construction to keep highways in good shape.

With the rise of autonomous vehicles, Balfour’s report predicts that roads will take on a new look, doing away with signage and gantries and instead embedding solar panels into road surfaces.

In the report Balfour Beatty said: “We must provide information the road user can trust to ensure that they get the safe, stress-free journey they want.

“In the medium-to-long-term, we are planning how to do away altogether with the roadworks we know customers hate – or at least how to keep them to a minimum and to ensure that they cause as little disruption as possible. This could be based on a combination of increasing the use of offsite, modular ‘click and fit’ approaches; using mobile factories which are able to be moved around; 3D printing; and the use of self-healing surfaces.”

However, the report warns that such a drastic overhaul will likely generate serious costs, meaning Highways England’s Strategic Road Network (SRN) should become self-financing by selling electricity to the grid, among other measures.

The report added: “In an understandably risk-averse industry, it can sometimes be hard to build a groundswell of support to make changes such as these, so we will stand ready to lend our support and expertise to bringing about change.”

Highways England has already pledged to become more customer-focused in its next road investment period running from 2020-2025. Speed limits through roadworks have already increased from 50mph to 60mph, and better signage is giving drivers more accurate journey estimations. 

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