PPRS event highlights transport investment shortfall

The PPRS event in Paris highlighted the need for additional investment in road transportation – David Arminas writes. Consider the global road network. An improved road from one rural African town to another can reduce the journey time from a one-day walk to a one-hour drive. This could save lives through access to a hospital; allow small businesses to work faster by getting in supplies more quickly; allow children to attend a better equipped school. Roads affect society by allowing healthier and bett
Asphalt Paving, Compaction & Testing / April 30, 2015
road repairs are essential
Timely road repairs are essential for effective transport
The PPRS 2015 event in Paris highlighted the need for additional investment in road transportation – David Arminas writes

Consider the global road network. An improved road from one rural African town to another can reduce the journey time from a one-day walk to a one-hour drive. This could save lives through access to a hospital; allow small businesses to work faster by getting in supplies more quickly; allow children to attend a better equipped school.

Roads affect society by allowing healthier and better educated people to interact more often and faster, too. And that was the message delivered time and again during many of the 100 presentations at the successful three-day Pavement Preservation and Recycling Summit in Paris last month. The conference also focussed on how to get that message across to the people who make decisions about road asset management. This challenge remains for everyone in the road infrastructure sector.

7924 PPRS 2015 brought people involved in all aspects of road maintenance and also from dozens of countries, not just European ones. It was a summit of ideas, as 3260 World Highways, the PPRS media partner, reported directly during the event. It set the scene of where the sector is at, technologically speaking, as Jean-Francois Corte, secretary general of the Paris-based 3141 PIARC (World Road Association) said in his concluding remarks.

The condition of roads is merely a technical problem for which, as attendees heard, there are some of the greatest minds, organisers and entrepreneurs hard at work to solve. But the real issue is a social one, as Corte noted in his wrapping up remarks. It is the medium called roads that allows people to change their lives, to improve them.

“We’ve got to make the road transport issue a social issue,” he said. It’s no longer about a better road to save a company a few euros in transportation costs. It’s about the time saved to improve the quality of life, about being able to spend more time with your family for one thing, he explained. And to make sure you get to your family safely.

Taking this further, he urged the delegates to rebalance, to refocus, on that idea. Too often the focus has been on national, often high-speed, roads for the betterment of commerce, national and international. While this is extremely important for the national and international good, it can be those secondary roads, even dirt roads, where small improvements will make huge differences to small communities, and their families.

Corte’s thoughts were echoed by Michael Cramer, Member of the European Parliament and chairman of the European Parliament transport committee. “We need to move away from new megaprojects and put in place a large-scale, long-term maintenance package for all transport modes,” he said. “Almost three-quarters of all EU road spending goes on new roads, and only 27% on maintenance. As a result, “we are heading in the wrong direction.”

But up to now, at least, the road lobby voice has been weak, according to Christopher Chope, chairman of the UK’s highway maintenance all-party parliamentary group.

What is needed is not only more communication by the road lobby, but a more coherent lobby about how road maintenance can’t be ignored, or ignore it at our peril. Chope believed that a huge leap in highway investment, more privately-run toll motorways and a stronger road industry lobby is essential but progress on this is slow because “the road lobby has always been weak”.

Chope, a former UK transport minister, said he is dismayed when he sees how strong and influential other lobby groups can be. “The road groups are poor when compared with other competing transport modes like rail,” he says, “and when the environmentalists get on the rail bandwagon” … the road argument gets drowned out. “Surely we can show that it is better to borrow now and maintain our road assets than defer and end up spending more later,” he added. “That has got to make good economic sense.”

Another presenter also pointed out the challenge posed by an increasingly urbanised global population. New towns still spring up and old ones shrink. Cities need not just new roads but better, longer-lasting and above all, smarter, roads. That future has arrived, said Nicoloas Hautiere, technical project director of the public research group IFSTTAR - the French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, spatial planning, development and networks. IFSTTAR puts a lot of thought and research into what Hautiere said is the fifth generation road.
But where have we come from? First generation roads were tracks between villages. From there grew second generation roads, many created during roman times. The cobbled, hardened tracks allowed easy mobility for armies. Roads became important to the state, however that state was defined.

For centuries that remained so, until initial technological transportation advances, such as the humble bicycle, came along. Enter Scottish engineer and road builder John Loudon McAdam whose now ubiquitous paved road speeds people along. The result was the third generation road, thanks to coal tar binding together the road's surface stones.

From McAdam’s tarmac and subsequent refinements came fourth generation roads, our network of fast roads - motorways.

But the fifth generation road, explained Hautier, will continually stretch the minds of transportation thinkers across the globe. It is not about creating more roads as a goal, but ensuring what we have are in the best possible condition and that they are here for a long time. This, as well as the realisation that roads are so, so much more than pavement between A and B.

The societal demands on fifth generation roads are immense. They put great pressure on road owners - government, cities, private companies - to ensure they are maintained to the best of their ability. It also creates great opportunities for technology companies to innovate to capture market share of the burgeoning road improvement market, the pavement preservation and recycling sector.

The 1116 European Union has already recognised this mental shift in what a road is all about, he said. Companies can apply for some of the €80 billion worth of funding through the EU's Horizon 2020 that started last year. In the pavement preservation and recycling sector, there are financial opportunities for companies investigating in material science, additives and pavement resurfacing techniques. The goals are many, he said – quieter roads, longer-life highways, less polluting roads, bio-sourced roads.

Opportunities are also opening up for information communication technology, having ICT sensors embedded in the road to collect large amounts of data - vehicle counts and weights, traffic flow data and much else that will help optimise road use before situations become critical and lead to massive traffic congestion.

But applying these new technologies may not be easy, noted Yann Cramer, general manager for innovation and technology sourcing for Shell Projects & Technology. Decision-makers will have to make hard choices about infrastructure and must ultimately consider new technologies, said Cramer during his presentation.

“For instance, we've heard about road pavement being used to harvest energy, either heat or photovoltaic,” he said. “This is not a decision that can be taken by a department of road maintenance on their own. It can only be taken by looking at the combined transport, energy, utility infrastructure in an integrated way. Most cities are grappling with the challenge of governance and are trying to inject more systemic thinking in to decision-making. For this they will need like-minded partners.”

Watch this space, he advised. Over the next 30 years hundreds of trillions of euros will be spent on urban investment. “If you want to follow the money, this will be a critical route.”

Innovation will be critical and roads may become more than just people movers, but data pathways. However, it shouldn’t be innovation for innovation’s sake, said Cramer. “The ultimate purpose of innovation is not that I receive a signal from my web-connected watch. It might be handy, but the ultimate purpose is human progress.

“Between 1750 and 1950, the life expectancy of three-quarters of humanity had more than doubled from between 30 and 40 years to between 70 and 80. This exemplifies the purpose of innovation. But these gains would be jeopardised if we fail to effectively address the challenges of urbanisation,” Cramer said.

How do we address these challenges? How will the road asset management sector, including the road surface technology companies, work with decision-makers? Cramer said widely separate ways are likely.

In what he called the “mountain scenario”, the key words are large-scale, centralised and integrated. Systemic thinking is pursued though a central government. Companies will collaborate with the decision-makers – transport departments, government ministers and other companies – in structured alliances.

In the opposite “ocean scenario” key words are local, devolved and flexible. Systemic thinking by decision-makers is needed just as much as in the mountain scenario. But this is attained by devolving more powers to local groups in the city. “This will provide them with the regulatory flexibility to pursue a diverse range of solutions and access localised funding. Companies will develop the ability to cooperate across the board in many ways to pursue non-standardised solutions,” he said.

Cramer did, however, acknowledge that mountains and ocean scenarios are black and white; the real world is full of grey. Yet no one should be in doubt, he explained, “the ultimate purpose of innovation is human progress, measured in different ways but includes extending human lifespan".
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