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Highways UK: The road to a brighter future

Friday 8th November 2019

This week we attended Highways UK, an event that brings together the people and organisations that are planning, designing, building, operating and future-proofing our road network. We spent two days talking with planners, engineers, our fellow transport bodies, delivery partners and suppliers to share learning and experience.

It was reassuring to see that roads remain an integral part of a multi-modal transport network, not only used to get from A to B in their own right but also for travelling to public transport hubs or enabling people to get around by walking or cycling. It is these shorter, more local journeys where there is much to be gained. By improving the first and last miles of our trips – through providing bus lanes or reconfiguring major junctions – we can make substantial reductions in journey times and ensure the whole travel experience is smoother and more reliable.

One of the recurring themes from our conversations was that every one of us uses roads in some way. We don’t have to drive a car to be a road user – we can walk, cycle, ride a motorbike or get the bus. And then there’s the delivery drivers who bring our parcels and groceries, and the emergency services who come to our rescue. Roads matter to us all and we should all care about ensuring they are fit for purpose not just now, but in the future too.

In fact, there was a lot of future talk at the event. We learnt about the very latest data collection tools that can assist with real-time traffic updates and provide vital evidence when considering road upgrades, as well as the newest kit being used to build and maintain the road network. For example, did you know that old tyres can be recycled into asphalt, or that an innovative new fuel digester could clean up spills in just 90 seconds?

Another subject that matters both now and in the future is sustainability. We took part in panel discussions and individual conversations on how we can mitigate the environmental impact of roads and vehicles, looking at big-picture solutions such as electric vehicles and how we are working towards decarbonisation goals, right down to helping creatures like hedgehogs by providing wildlife tunnels.

Of course, we also spent a lot of time talking about road schemes that have recently been completed, and the ones in our investment pipeline which we know would make a tangible difference to how people and goods move around the North. Many of these projects meet vital needs, such as enabling access to new housing or business parks, making it quicker to get into and out of our ports and airports, and enabling people to use public transport more easily. These are things we need to address today, and also set us up for tomorrow and beyond.

So what did we learn at Highways UK? That we’re all working towards the same goal – a reliable and sustainable road network that supports a modern, well-connected Britain. Together we can get there.