Highways England (HE) has launched two competitions to encourage the UK’s most creative minds to develop innovative ideas to help revolutionize the way the country’s motorways and major A roads are designed, managed and used.
HE has set aside £20m (US$25.8m) to invest in projects that will change the way its network operates and is inviting ground-breaking entries which will help develop ‘digital roads’ through the uses of connected vehicles and infrastructure, design and construction that reduce cost and improve safety, create better and more predictable journey times, and improve air quality.
The types of benefits that road users and local communities could see as a result include: better quality journeys, improved road safety, more efficient use of vehicles, enhanced public spaces and improved health. The competitions come as the agency continues to plan for the future, the changing roads landscape, and the increasing automation in vehicles and systems. Potential entrants are encouraged to join a webinar, hosted by Innovate UK and HE on February 14.
HE is delivering the UK government’s current £15bn (US$19.4bn) road investment program and paving the way for the second program that will start in April 2020. In June 2018, HE launched an ‘innovation portal’, which is an online platform to help identify projects that could make roads safer for motorists and road workers, improve how information reaches those traveling around, or help deliver an ambitious roads program. Now the agency is casting its net wider and looking to invest in creative solutions covering six themes:
- Design, construction and maintenance;
- Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs);
- Customer mobility;
- Energy and the environment;
- Air quality.
Examples of projects could include roads that repair themselves, robotic construction methods, and improved connections between different modes of transport.
One competition is for unproven feasibility projects, which through a second phase closed competition could be further funded for development. The other competition is for proven projects at development stage. To lead a project, entrants can be an organization of any size, and can either work alone or with others as subcontractors.
Entries must be suitable for a trial on England’s strategic road network (SRN), with projects expected to start by September this year. The finance comes from two of HE’s ringfenced Designated Funds, which are set aside for innovation and air quality projects. The bids will be administered by the Innovate UK agency.
“This is an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs, collaborative partnerships, and organizations of any size to help shape the roads of the future,” explained Mike Wilson, HE’s executive director for safety, engineering and standards.
“We want to explore new and innovative approaches and invest in the best. And we’re keen to engage with a wider network than we have traditionally worked with. Together we can make great improvements both to people’s journeys and communities and the environment around our network.”