The Future of Highways Data

How can data help transform local highways maintenance services in England?

Building on the speed learning session on the Future of Highways Data at the Future Highways Conference 2014 (for which the post below was written), this remains so relevant as many local authorities are now moving from reactive to proactive highways maintenance programme.

With audio and vido clips, this post gives a good overview of the strategic and operational challenges local authorities are facing, and how these can be overcome successfully.

At the Future Highways conference on 11th June 2015, you’ll hear from Chris Dyer at East Sussex County Council (featured below), and have the opportunity to take part in a first of its kind practical afternoon workshop with Yotta, Surrey County Council and London Borough of Southwark.

Look forward to seeing you on June 11th 😉


I’m passionate about the benefits of representing data visually to foster engagement and aid decision-making, and in May 2014 I went along to Yotta’s ‘Data to Decisions’ conference to learn how existing highways asset data can be used to engage everyone in the process of planning and improving our local roads.

Highways maintenance in need of transformation

In his keynote speech, Jason Russell, Assistant Director of Highways for Surrey County Council clarified the need for transformation rather than incremental change, in order to meet the targets set by the UK Construction Strategy and the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme.

The review by Infrastructure UK identified UK construction costs are on average 15-20% higher compared to rest of Europe, despite a similar cost base.  The target set by the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) is to manage the local road network and achieve the same outcomes with 30% less costs by 2020.  Listen to Jason’s message here:

From reactive to proactive

It may be obvious that a reactive approach to highways maintenance; continually patch-fixing potholes and paying out compensation claims, is counter productive. What isn’t clear yet though, is how we move from these ingrained reactive habits to a more proactive planning and investment approach that helps us rebuild this vital local transport asset.

Here Chris Dyer explains how East Sussex made the decision to move from a reactive to proactive asset management approach:

Harness your data to create a model

A key step towards being more proactive requires making more effective use of existing data.  Capturing data on the highways assets (pavements, kerbs, lighting, street furniture etc), and modelling it effectively make it cheaper and easier to identify, plan and prioritise works programmes that fit budgets and meet members’ and public needs.

Here East Sussex County Council show how they’ve done exactly that with the help of Yotta Horzions software, and secured sigficiant extra funding for highways maintenance:

First, capture the data…

Using data you already have and modelling it to make sure it matches with engineers expectations is an important part of the process.  Once you have confidence the model reflects as close as possible the reality, you can then trust the outputs from the various model scenarios you run.

Lancashire County Council explain the correlation process they went through to match up the model outputs with the expectations and knowledge of engineering staff:

Reliability and repeatability are key qualities for national datasets like road condition surveys.  Scanner data captured by all local authorities as a basis for road condition is a good example of how open data and open standards can help, and hinder, quality, as Alex Wright from the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) explains:

Second, link different datasets together…

Local Highways teams use a variety of different database (and paper / human knowledge!) systems to store data about their highways assets.   Yet modelling highways assets means bringing all this data into one place, something which is often prohibitively expensive in terms of time and resources for many local authorities.

Thankfully, Yotta have thought about this and made sure that data stored in other databases and systems can be read and accessed through their software.  This means you don’t have to move data around or change existing databases just to make the most of what you currently have.

Third, model and visualise your data…

With your data identified and and linked together, the real fun begins. This is where it is possible to start modelling different scenarios for condition, cost and outcomes using a range of different tools and parameters.

The Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme provides a basic modelling toolkit for all local authorities to use, as Haydn Davies explains here:

Of course it is possible to model highways asset data and not visualise the results in a graphical and easy to understand way.  But given the complexity of the data we are dealing with, I believe we miss significant opportunities to communicate and engage all parties in the decision-making process if we fail to make the best of the visualisation capabilities available today.  Yotta are currently the market lead in this area with their Horizons product.

In visualising your asset management data, engineers benefit by understanding the network better, and it is easier to identify data gaps that need addressing in the future.

You’re also able to create financial forecasts and works programme orders for all model scenarios, not just final ones, as Yotta’s Alex Croston explains:

How does this modelling help with the asset management process?  Hear from Chris Dyer as he explains how modelling helped East Sussex with their asset management planning:

Visualising data and sharing different scenarios taking on board different priorities makes it easier to engage the members and public as part of the decision-making process.

Feeding this into your wider business planning cycle

Once your network is modelled, and you can share the process of defining and prioritising workloads, delivering your plans requires them to be incorporated into your wider business planning processes.

Here, Jason Russell (Surrey County Council) explains why its so important to link the outputs of highways asset management modelling with the wider outcomes and long and short term business plans in local highways authorities:

Chris Dyer from East Sussex explains the benefits of doing this, including transparency and evidence of performance improvement over time to meet overall outcomes:

And to bring us full circle, Jason Russell explains, through his experiences in Surrey,  the importance of fitting highways asset management into wider set of common outcomes for the business planning cycles:

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