Putting highways on the right road to productivity

Andrew Rowley, National Commercial Director

With local authorities bidding for a share of funding from the National Productivity Investment Fund and tough efficiency targets set by Highways England, improving efficiency and flexibility are at the top of the highways industry’s agenda.

Drawing on my involvement with Highway’s England’s Pavement Efficiency group and my wider professional experience, I believe there are five key areas where simple changes could boost productivity.

Engaging early

All parties – from clients and designers through to Tier 2 and Tier 3 contractors – must be engaged from the beginning, enabling the sharing of best practices and the most effective, joined up planning.

Efficient delivery on the ground

Material supply must be considered alongside haulage capacity to normalise high-tonnage projects able to lay a larger volume of surfacing material within a traditional working window.

Contractors involved earlier in the process can design efficient delivery schedules of work from the outset. In one recent project, we organised planed materials to be backhauled in the asphalt delivery trucks, contributing to an approximate 20 per cent increase in overall project output.

Maximising the working window

Making best use of the working window through forensic planning and coordination of site movements is essential. For example, closing a slip road ahead of the main carriageway unlocks extra time to get materials in place and ready to go, while the use of traffic tapers can accelerate full closures to deliver a time saving of up to two-thirds.

Developments in materials technology are also helping us to maximise the working window. Using low temperature asphalt reduces cooling times, allowing lanes to be trafficked sooner, and means larger volumes can be laid during shifts. This enables faster completion, reducing costs while minimising public disruption.

Collaboration across the supply chain

Encouraging collaborative working across the whole supply chain is essential. Early engagement is fundamental to a new, more efficient approach to maintaining the strategic and local road networks.

Better uniformity in contracts can help ensure scheme designers plan for the use of aggregates, while more consistency in the designs themselves would allow more information to be shared and for contractors to plan ahead. It would also highlight common working constraints, issues and risks, meaning provisions for these could be made from the outset.

Collective commitment

Finally, as an industry we must work together to embrace these changes. Project partners must approach a road scheme with the same mindset, enabled by increased collaboration and partnership across the supply chain. All disciplines should consider how they can help to maximise laying output within the available working window, whether through traffic management, planing or surfacing.

Our sector has already made strides in improving productivity, but the test now must be to make this consistent across all schemes, putting highways at the forefront of the collective effort to close the national productivity gap.

A version of this article was first published in the June issue of Construction Index magazine