Self-healing roads and a pothole-predicting map to cut roadwork disruption

England’s roads agency promising once-in-a-lifetime modernisation of monitoring and maintenance will save drivers time and money

A digital road map that can predict when and where potholes will develop and “smart” surfaces that can repair themselves are among new technologies being explored to improve road maintenance.

The high-tech solutions are among the ideas put forward by Highways England as it announces its plans for the future of road management.

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The agency - which is being renamed National Highways - says it is embarking on a “once-in-a-lifetime digital revolution” which could also include autonomous maintenance vehicles.

It says the proposed technologies could cut the delays and disruption caused by roadworks, saving drivers time and money.

Elliot Shaw, National Highways’ executive director of strategy and planning said: “We are at the beginning of a digital revolution on our roads network, a once-in-a-century transformation which will fundamentally change how our roads are designed, built, operated and used.

“The Digital Roads journey covers every aspect of the roads infrastructure from design and construction, to how roads are operated to the changing experience for all road users.

“Digital Roads will make our roads safer and greener. Improvements and maintenance will be delivered more quickly with less disruption and road users will have a far better end-to-end journey experience, with savings on time and the cost of travel.”

Among the key technologies being explored is a multi-million-pound “road twinning” digital map, which will use computer modelling in combination with live data from “intelligent” materials in the road surface to monitor roads and predict where maintenance will be needed. This should allow the agency to more quickly identify and address issues such as potholes, reduce the need for on-site inspections and allow for work to be carried more quickly.

The outline also includes discussion of self-healing roads which can repair imperfect surfaces without the need for major roadworks. Scientists are exploring materials and methods - including using heat or oils to soften then reform the surface - that will allow surfaces to be repaired quickly and easily with less disruption to drivers.

Greater automation of construction and plant machinery, such as automated cone-laying machines, is also among the schemes being explored along with off-site construction of modular components to reduce the time spent on building on the road network.

Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: “From digital road models that can predict where maintenance is needed on the real-life road network, to self-repairing road surfaces, and automated cone laying machines, we’re committed to keeping the UK at the forefront of technological developments.

“I’m therefore delighted that National Highways’ vision reflects this, benefitting road users for many years to come with greener, smoother, safer journeys.”