When it comes to managing our local roading corridors, should councils focus on customer outcomes rather than physical assets? And what roles do big data, drones, ground-penetrating radar, early contractor involvement contracts and hardware on highways play? Patricia Moore talks with four local specialists about the roadside revolution.
Unless something catches the eye, for the majority of motorists the side of the road is just that – the side of the road. But for those charged with corridor management it’s not that simple. Phil Cornforth is country manager for beforeUdig. He says the big picture involves having a view of everything that’s taking place in the road corridor.
“That could include everything from an excavation to install new utility infrastructure such as power and gas, to maintenance of existing assets, improvements to the corridor assets themselves, or even people having fun – holding street parties or bike and running races.”
Phil says all these activities affect the smooth day-to-day running of the road corridor and can have consequences for safety and quality of life, as well as economic effects for the businesses concerned.
Meanwhile, Gary Porteous from Opus notes that roading corridor management is becoming more complex than ever with a focus on customer outcomes rather than the physical asset.
Gary, who is the firm’s sector leader NZ – transportation and asset management, says innovations in the sector are driving greater efficiencies and leading to better journey experiences for customers.
Technology is providing many of the solutions. “Big data and connected infrastructure – the Internet of Things – are key aspects of roading corridor management today,” says Tony Harrison, NZ road network management and eSolutions leader, GHD.
“The power of big data and connected infrastructure is massive,” he says. “The combination of the two technologies means we can monitor, analyse, optimise and / or respond more and more in real time. A key challenge is connecting and transferring the data from infrastructure in real time so that we can provide maximum benefits and opportunities to optimise delivery and ultimately save costs.”
Innovative 3D ground-penetrating radar is providing not only the depth of services but also their size, information on pavement layers, and identifying voids and water table levels – information which is fed back to the service / asset owners’ databases.
And the speed of data collection is being increased through use of drones and high-speed light-detection and ranging.
According to Phil, in urban centres corridor management can involve over a dozen asset owners.
“The need to contact each of these individually previously created problems for contractors involved in excavation work,” he says. “Today’s technology means beforeUdig is able to provide quick, reliable information for those operating machinery near cables and pipes.”
Developments linked to the service continue to be introduced, he says. He notes that in the past year, of more than 150,000 enquiries, over 80 percent involved the road corridor to some degree.
McConnell Dowell roading director Aidan Brannan says innovation is playing a role when it comes to quality, risk management and project controls, and safety.
“The increasing trend in the infrastructure industry is for designers, contractors and clients to work together, for example, under an early contractor involvement contract. This facilitates knowledge sharing, improves communication, highlights opportunities and can help achieve a quality and compliant design, quickly and efficiently.”
Aidan says reliable metrics and good management supporting a robust design process ensure a better understanding of a project. This helps give the client confidence which enables them to manage public interest positively and transparently.
He cites as an example the solution found by the McConnell Dowell-Downer joint venture team to avoid 12 traffic management changes while constructing a new overbridge at the Russley Road upgrade project in Christchurch.
“The team was able to create a giant temporary roundabout which enabled traffic to continue safely and uninterrupted around the works. Feedback was extremely complimentary,” he says.
Safety success, says Aidan, goes beyond ‘box-ticking’ and embedding the right behaviours, with the NZTA’s Zero Harm Strategic Plan putting the onus on everyone in their supplier network to place a stronger focus on the elements that contribute to improved outcomes.
“Think of safety as a yearling racehorse,” he says. “You acquire a horse with the right pedigree and that’s your safety processes and procedures. But the right training is also crucial to its performance. This is the safety culture and behavioural awareness that a team needs to have in place for the best outcomes.”
Lateral thinking is improving workplace safety with technology developed for other purposes being applied in the roading corridor sector. The Russley Road upgrade is trialling a laser sensor, designed for use by hunters and adapted for use as a proximity device on moveable construction machinery, which sounds an alarm when a reflective strip is detected.
The same project is also seeing use of WISAblock, an innovative anti-impalement guard that provides low-cost site safety.
Tony says there’s also been “a leap forward” in corridor efficiency through the increased use of mobile phone data.
“Hardware on highways is providing real-time travel time for vehicles from point-to-point as well as identifying issues on the network and informing the best time of day for works to be undertaken on a particular route.”
With local bodies answerable to their ratepayers, cost effectiveness and value for money are key.
But, as Tony points out, while technological innovations have the potential to make significant savings, without a strategy to deal with future digital disruption, there’s a risk of simply reacting to opportunities, rather than taking a whole-of-organisation approach.
“There are great products being used that are producing savings and good stand-alone solutions,” he notes.
“Potential issues arise when there are dozens of different products operating across a council, doing a good job in isolation but not working under the same overarching enterprise-wide system or aligned with a corporate direction.”
It’s been predicted that the introduction of autonomous electric vehicles will result in greater disruption than resulted in the move from horse and cart to the motor car.
But who really knows what the future holds in terms of technology for our roading corridors? How far will autonomous cars, car sharing, bike sharing, mobility as a service, drones, and more, develop? And will these impact the whole country or just the metropolitan centres?
As Tony Harrison concludes: “It’s important local authorities consider how they plan to position themselves to deal with these issues to maximise the opportunity for efficiency liveability and sustainability gains.”
• Patricia Moore is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.