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Tools of the trade

The UK Highways Agency has developed a 'toolkit' of techniques and equipment which can be used individually or in combination for making better use of the road network.

Inclusion of a reinforced soil case study using a short section of reinforced soil embankment to provide a cycle lane at a junction on the A13 in Essex could significantly increase acceptance and use of reinforced soil and soil nailing techniques in the UK.

The toolkit is actually a CD-Rom which contains a selection of techniques and ideas providing examples of innovation that have potential for wider use within the roads network.

As well as bringing forward local environment and safety improvements, the toolkit focuses on ways of integrating the trunk road network with other modes of transport by providing safer and more accessible interchanges between modes, and measures to assist public transport and vulnerable users.

The toolkit concept is integral to the HA's redefined role as network operator of England's motorway and trunk road network. Within this, maintenance is a top priority over new build, and priority is given to promoting integration of the network, by for example encouraging cycling and walking, by providing more cycle and footpaths near trunk roads.

The Toolkit concept was introduced in the government white paper published last summer. Junior transport minister Lord Whitty commented at the time: 'The agency has dropped its old image of being a road builder as the strategic network is largely complete. From now on, it will become a network operator by more actively managing roads and ensuring motorways and trunk roads work more closely with other transport systems.' Indeed Lord Whitty added 'It will bring forward innovative solutions using new technology and its 'toolkit' of ideas and projects, actively influencing road use in an integrated manner'.

Inclusion of a reinforced soil application within the toolkit project is good news for the UK geotechnical industry and geosynthetics community in particular. It shows that although the turndown in new road building has taken a significant chunk out of the market, the Highways Agency has the potential to remain a major industry client body, with scope for geotechnical input and innovation, albeit in a redefined capacity.

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