The Chief Executive of Highways England, Jim O’Sullivan, says smart motorways are just the first generation of technological improvements to the strategic road network.
Speaking at Traffex he said, “We talk about autonomous vehicles and I’m interested in connected vehicles. I want to get to the stage where when you choose your route on your satnav it tells us and we can work out real-time live traffic and manage the traffic effectively. Taking [the information] from the user and providing it to the user. So making it two way – information sharing.
“If you go back ten years, we used to talk about turning data into information. Now we’ve got to turn information into intelligence. What are we going to do with it has become the question, rather than how do we get it.
‘So it’s huge. I think there’s an ongoing debate about how much road we need to build. We have a backlog of 10 to 20 years of road building and I think the answer to our capacity issues is not either/or. It’s not technology or road building. We actually need to do both.”
O’Sullivan also talked about how road users have become more information hungry, “They want to know how long the delay is. They want to know how far it is to the next junction. We’ve started to provide some of that in as much as our current signs will let us. So we are keeping up with the technology changes.”
He added, “We are using ANPR. We are making extensive use of floating data. We are using a mixture of ANPR, used in that anonymous way – i.e. for journey time data – and floating data from mobile phones.”
On the recent controversy over all lane running schemes as part of smart motorways, he said, “I think argument over the need for smart motorways is long since won. That argument is over.
“We are finding that the smart motorway safety is absolutely consistent with the broader motorway network. The engineering and the mathematics of the safety argument is incontrovertible. But we’ve got to get to a point where people accept that.”
O’Sullivan also praised the Traffex event itself saying, “I’m very pleased to see the amount of equipment on display, including at our own stand.
“A number of companies have brought the people that actually operate the equipment so they can talk about it with a level of expertise that we don’t normally get to see. There’s a huge amount of innovation on display and so we are finally embracing the information age and the technology age. So in the round I think it’s all very good.”
As for whether attending Traffex will prove a useful exercise for Highways England, he said: “I think it will, and I think it does so in a number of ways. The first is that it marks our presence in the industry, and the fact that we are here with predominantly members of our supply chain is huge.
“I think the opportunity to interact on our stand and talk to people – and indeed for our people to see other things that are going on in the industry that might not make their way to them through the process. I think that’s important.”
He added,”I also think it’s demonstrating how hard we are working to become a listening organisation, and the opportunity for people to come to the stand, engage, and be introduced to the appropriate experts within Highways England on their subject matter.”