22 September 2021 | Collaboration

TRL paper outlines vision of a smarter future for highway assets

TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) has published a paper to stimulate discussion among local authorities about the need and the means to achieve an integrated toolkit to improve decisions in highways asset management.

It highlights the following:

  • The benefits and potential of current and new tools & techniques
  • Preparing for new sensing and measurement technologies
  • The opportunities presented by an integrated asset management toolkit
  • How new data and Decision Support Tools can help remove the need for human judgement
  • A proposed programme to stimulate collaborative work towards achieving the vision

The application of consistent, reliable information is a key component of highway asset management. The tools to understand asset performance have developed rapidly over the last decade, leading to many more options beyond surveys such as SCANNER. These tools (which encompass data sources and decision support) now include asset surveys, intelligent infrastructure monitoring, crowd sourcing, remote sensing, and data analytics, enriched within Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to deliver intuitive visualisation. A new paper from TRL suggests that the potential of these tools is not yet being fully exploited by highways asset managers. By bringing together sensing and measurement data into modern decision support tools (DST), the condition of highway assets would be better understood, says TRL, and critical decision making would be quicker, better informed, and simpler to convert into preventative action.

TRL’s paper includes a practical programme to help road authorities agree a strategy to accelerate adoption of these tools. The programme sets out collaborative activities to which many stakeholders will need to subscribe, and identifies dependencies and milestones which, once agreed, could form the basis of a “roadmap” to an integrated toolkit.

As initial discussion points, TRL’s paper reflects on the variety of tools available right now which could help road authorities better understand the performance of highway assets. TRL explores the current and future capabilities of these tools, the benefits they could bring, and the innovative possibilities created by combining these tools.

“The core proposition” says Dr Alex Wright, TRL’s Chief Technologist, “is that an integrated toolkit of data and decision support tools, will provide combined outcomes that exceed the benefits that can be gained by trying to exploit each individually. For example, by drawing on skid/accident risk data (crowd sourced from vehicles), measurements of friction (from surveys), and remotely sensed weather data, urban traffic data, and residual salt and spray levels (from IOT), Decision Support Tools could autonomously manage surface friction demands such as winter maintenance (where, when and exactly how much salt to spread) and safety interventions (surface and drainage treatments), within defined budgets and KPIs.”

Wright argues that a more widespread use of a wide range of these innovative tools will inevitably lead to further development in their capability, achieving greater efficiencies and cost savings and, importantly, encourage greater take up by asset owners.

TRL’s Chief Technologist Dr Alex Wright will present the key insights from the paper at the Strictly Highways event on 7th October. Download the paper in advance here:  The new toolkit for highways asset management.