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Road maintenance engineers must share information about doing more for less

Roads are vital to economic wellbeing yet in many developed countries these assets have suffered due to a shortfall in funding.

Countries that invested in substantial road building programmes in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s now face increasing maintenance costs while public expenditure is under pressure for a variety of reasons including the increased wear and tear due to traffic volumes, the widespread economic downturn, and other budget demands such as increasing health and social care costs.

It’s more “perfect storm” than ‘double whammy”.

The challenge is clear: how can we do more for less? The answer in one word: collaboration.

We must be open to learning from others in our own country and beyond.

In the UK two notable initiatives are Infrastructure UK and the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP), the latter in which I’m proud to play a role. HMEP makes recommendations based on practices from across the UK and internationally.

I’ve shared insights with interested parties in the US, Europe, the Middle East and Australasia and everywhere I’ve gone I’ve had gems shared with me.

I’ve recently returned from a speaking tour sponsored by the New Zealand Transport Agency to share the benefits of HMEP, especially on collaborative working, asset management, improved procurement and greater standardisation.

Roads there are generally in a reasonable condition due to two key factors, firstly an embedded culture of good asset management and, secondly, a more sustainable approach to maintenance funding underpinned by road fuel duty and vehicle licence taxation. Some good practice there worth considering.

Even with its funding model New Zealand still wants to make the most of the resources available and is creating a Roading Efficiency Group (REG) which mirrors a lot of HMEP’s remit.

Many of New Zealand’s local authorities have very small populations in large geographic areas, so applying UK approaches such as contract alliances, shared services and collaboration through the supply chain offers economies of scale and access to technical capability. On North Island 10 councils have agreed to set up a centre of excellence for roading asset management and on South Island two adjacent regional councils will produce a single transport plan.

Action isn’t just down to clients. It’s up to companyies such as mine to seize the opportunity to collaborate and to apply learning. In the UK our EM Highway Services business has achieved improved outcomes at lower cost through supply chain collaboration. And aspects of this approach have been introduced to the Australian market through our DownerMouchel joint venture.

Sharing knowledge is a collaborative exercise and often enables other collaborative activity that delivers improved value for money.

New Zealand has shown itself willing to learn from beyond its borders to improve its asset management, a collaborative approach through which governments, councils, and companies among others can all benefit irrespective of whether it’s with people just up the road or on the other side of the world.

  • Matthew Lugg is infrastructure services’ director of public services at Mouchel

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