The Smart Road Ahead

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From BIM Journal. Click Here to Read Issue 3

From BIM Journal Issue 03 – here

Before we look at our Q&A and progress with the rest of the issue it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the wider remit of the UK Smart Motorway initiative and the major players involved.

Highways England (formerly the Highways Agency) is the Executive Agency of the Department for Transport (DfT) that is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving the country’s motorways and main A roads[7].

As part of £1.5 billion investment to build ten “smart motorways”, Highways England had previously appointed six joint-venture companies to take the programme of work forward. The smart motorway scheme is part of a £15 billion government investment that Highways England is delivering between now and 2021, which will see almost three hundred extra lane miles added to motorways. The hard shoulder will be converted into a traffic lane and signing and technology will tell drivers what speed to drive at or if the lanes are blocked or closed, as well ad advising of incidents that may lay up ahead.[2]


On the back of this, other projects and initiatives seek to provide road users with a benefit of shorter journey times, reduced congestion and increased capacity, creating better local connections and improved passenger journeys.

At the time of going to press these are the companies involved in the Smart Motorway schemes so far:

  • Contractor / Designer / Scheme
  • Balfour Beatty & Vinci JV / CH2M & Hyder / M4, M5 and M6
  • Carillion & Kier JV / Jacobs & Atkins / M6, M20, M23
  • Costain & Galliford Try JV / Amey / Arup / M1
  • Balfour Beatty / Mott MacDonald & Sweco / M3
  • Pending / Mott MacDonald & Sweco / M27
  • Pending / Atkins & Jacobs / M60, M56
  • Pending / AECOM / M6, M62

What Exactly is a Smart Motorway?

In the words of Highways England, smart motor­ways are a technology-driven approach to the use of our motor­ways that increase capac­ity and relieve con­ges­tion while main­tain­ing safety. Smart motor­ways help to make jour­ney times more reliable as the hard shoul­der is used for traf­fic either per­ma­nently or at peak times. Tech­nol­ogy is used to mon­i­tor con­ges­tion lev­els and to change the speed limit when needed, to smooth the traf­fic flow.[9]

Smart motor­ways increase road capac­ity faster and at less of a cost than tra­di­tional road widen­ing schemes and they are just as safe – often safer. The hard shoul­der is con­verted to become a nor­mal lane, or can be opened to traf­fic when things get congested.[9]

Tried and Tested

As a result of the first smart motor­way scheme, the M42 motor­way in 2006, there is already evi­dence of the ben­e­fits that these initiatives can bring.  Indeed the analy­sis of data gath­ered since has found that jour­ney reli­a­bil­ity improved by 22 per cent, per­sonal injury acci­dents reduced by more than half and where acci­dents did occur, sever­ity was much lower over­all with zero fatal­i­ties and fewer seri­ously injured.[9]

Each scheme has its own project web page that can be accessed here.

Next Steps

There are a swathe of initiatives kicking off around the world when it comes to smart highways of course, not least in the USA with the Solar Roadways initiative, think automatic melting of snow and ice. Together with Electric Roads (the first one opened last year in Sweden[26]) with wireless charging also coming into effect as a currently trialled solution by many governments. Plus pollution tunnels, smart tolling, glow in the dark paint, temperature reactive markings, dynamic lines and other ideas are all offshoots of the wider smart highways initiatives the world over. Each of which are projects that we will look at in detail in future issues of BIM Journal of course (notably Smart Cities).

As for the recent announcements by some Dubai media sources of the autonomous flying car then we really do have a rich technological future ahead of us. In the meantime back to the here and now with a project Q&A with David Lowery courtesy of the ICE.

From BIM Journal Issue 03 – here (for all references see BIM Journal)

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