“Cutting through the Complexity” – How technology is helping councils solve the street works puzzle

Roadworks perform a vital function in helping to ensure the safety of the travelling public; in providing easy access to employment, health, social and educational services, and in supporting the ongoing growth of our towns and cities. Effective roadworks help to prevent the deterioration of what is one of the most important of all public assets. Yet, despite all of this, roadworks also present a complex and difficult challenge to councils across the UK on a weekly, if not daily, basis.    

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to state that the job of efficiently managing planned and unplanned roadworks is one of the most complex faced by local roads and highways management teams – and it’s getting more difficult all the time. 

Keeping Disruption to a Minimum  

A recent report from traffic analysts INRIX, entitled ‘London Congestion Trends highlighted that one of the most significant drivers of increased congestion in the capital in the period 2012-15 was roadworks, which increased by 362% during that time frame. Moreover, recent estimates indicate that there are around two million sets of roadworks in total carried out annually across the UK.

It is not just highways maintenance teams driving this demand. Utility companies regularly need access to the highways too, so buried or overhead assets can be maintainred. This can further stoke congestion and public frustration. Currently, an estimated 2.5 million road openings a year are caused by utility companies. Research from the Local Government Association (LGA) shows that three quarters of small businesses say this work has a "negative impact" – mainly in reduced sales.  

The authorities have to take all of this into account and coordinate works so as to minimise their impact on the travelling public. Typically, that means they need a clear view of when works need to happen to reduce disruption; how they can minimise the time needed to complete them especially on the busiest roads, and how they can avoid conflicts - where two or more groups need access to the same stretch of road at the same time.   

Directors also need to think about how they can best manage risk across their network. That means they need to use software which is compliant to the Traffic Management Act (TMA) and the electronic transfer of notices (EToN) specifications, and will thereby help meet the legislative requirements for issuing notices and inspecting appropriately. Added to this, the introduction of permitting schemes can help departments gain increased control of their road network.    

Finally, there is the issue of inspections to consider. Inspectors need to plan their regime, maximising inspections where there are potential overstays and at the end of reinstatement warranty periods. As such, to drive further efficiencies, they are always looking to increase the number of inspections they can undertake in a day, and minimise onerous paperwork.   

What’s the Answer?   

For the above reasons, it’s critical that technology used for street works management is intuitive and efficient and that it flags up issues before they turn into operational problems. No road user wants to be stuck in traffic of course but given the need for road maintenance and repair, some disruption to the network is, sadly, inevitable. It’s key, however, that authorities look to minimise the impact on the travelling public by taking action up-front to keep the problem under tight control.  That kind of pre-emptive functionality can be invaluable to a local authority, looking to keep the public happy by keeping disruption to a minimum. Once alerted, street works coordinators can consciously look to ensure that the work is of short duration and, where possible, conducted at the least busy times of the week, or of the year.   

Technology also needs to drive clarity and cut through confusion. The latest tools help achieve this by creating colourful visual reports to help managers understand performance and historic trends across the network and integrated mapping can help them understand potential conflicts and keep disruption to a minimum.   

At a more granular level, highways inspectors are arguably the single group that stands to benefit most from the latest solutions. Notice management tools can be used to plan the overall inspection regime and can help maximise inspections where there are potential overstays and at the end of reinstatement warranty periods.

Inspectors are also the group best placed to take advantage of the latest state-of-the-art mobile-ready asset management tools in this sector. The best of these are map-driven, allowing them to see clearly what works are under way; how they are progressing and where intervention may be needed to speed things up. The technology also saves time by removing the need for inspectors to be continuously calling the office for clarification while out in the field conducting specific projects.  Moreover, they can use the mobile capability to input data directly into the database while they are on site, obviating the need for reams of paperwork to be entered into the system at the end of the day, with the obvious increased potential for human error that this brings, and increasing the speed and accuracy of the inspections process.    

Positive Future Ahead  

The era where the street works register was managed manually is long gone. Automated systems now hold sway. Today, though, we are seeing a real step-change; both in the level of functionality councils are demanding and the kinds of systems available to meet that demand. Powerful visualisation, integrated mapping and advanced mobile capability are starting to move into the mainstream and are increasingly seen as critical in driving operational efficiency and competitive edge.  The future of street works asset management is rapidly becoming a reality. 

Jonathan Williams, product consultant, Yotta 

Image Credit: SD-Pictures / Pixabay