Donald Morrison, head of asset management and procurement for Transport Scotland, doesn’t take much persuading to agree that this is a time for celebration in Scotland’s infrastructure sector.
Flush from the success of the Queensferry Crossing, which gives the river Forth a skyline as beautiful as the sky above it, the sector seems to be ploughing through a range of major projects.
‘I would say it is a time to celebrate. The Queensferry Crossing was a huge piece of engineering. It’s an iconic sight that was a major achievement. The dualling on the A9 is under way now and the M8 improvement works are open to traffic, so there has been a lot happening in terms of projects.’
There has also been the success of the average speed camera installations on the A9, and the upcoming switch-on of average speed cameras on the A90 in October.
In fact, so much is going on that it raises the question of whether this period of capital investment will be the feast before the famine. However Mr Morrison suggests the pipeline is looking strong across the devolved nation.
‘The Scottish Government has committed to further investment in roads. I think the profile of capital investment gives significant investment over the next seven to eight years, with the A9 dualling, and the A96 dualling in preparation, there is significant investment coming down the pipeline.
‘There is also the ongoing review of our National Transport Strategy. That will no doubt identify new priorities going forward.’
Trunk roads contracts: 5th Generation and going strong
While all this is taking place there is also the bread and butter work of maintenance, and this is also set for major developments.
‘Next year we will start procurement of the trunk road maintenance contracts. This would be the fifth generation. That’s the important thing from our point of view. We will engage quite closely with the supply chain and industry to stimulate the market in the run up to the start of the tender phase next summer, with the aim of having the contract ready to go this time next year.
‘There are also contracts for asset management information systems coming up, that go with the trunk road maintenance contracts. The systems are provided to the operating companies and are tailored to the individual areas, although the different companies cannot see each other’s.
‘The architecture of the system may change but the policy will remain one national system tailored to each area. Obviously technology has moved on in the last couple of years. So we will be looking at functionality.’
Having received a critical report from Audit Scotland in 2016, collaboration as a means of improving services and delivering efficiencies has been high on the local authority agenda. Highways reported on the promising work of Scotland’s Roads Collaboration Programme in June and delegates at Road Expo Scotland will no doubt be able to find out more about this key project.
Mr Morrison points out that collaboration is moving forward and is not limited to work between councils.
‘There is a very much a push for collaboration and it’s an area that has gathered momentum. From our perspective we are working with local authorities on how they could collaborate through the fifth gen contracts. We are obviously reviewing the contracts now so we need to understand what local authorities want regarding things we might collaborate on such as weather forecasting, road condition surveys and the sharing of depots – there is potential to agree on areas outside the trunk network as well, that may not be in the contracts.’
Innovation and the risk-based approach
Innovation is another area that the roads sector is pushing forward. The A9 could become the nation’s first ‘electric highway’ with charging points for electric vehicles along its route. Meanwhile at a technical level Transport Scotland’s Pavement Forum is an ongoing research group with annual investment to do trials on new materials. It brings together the national authority and the supply chain to look at getting better value and a longer life from the asset.
‘We developed a new specification for thin surfacing called TS2010. Initial development goes back to 2010 but it has been reviewed twice and we are now seeing wider use on trunk roads so we expect to see longer life from using that specification.’
Transport Scotland’s asset management team is also doing a review of the risk-based approach to highways maintenance under the new code of practice. The review will feed into the fifth generation trunk road contracts although
Mr Morrison points out the contract specifications for trunk roads already exceed the requirements of the code.
He adds that local authorities are doing a similar piece of work developing risk-based inspection arrangements.
Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government’s national transport agency, will be exhibiting at Road Expo this year. Over 100 exhibitors and more than 1,000 fellow Scottish road professionals will be in attendance on 1-2 November Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh.