The road to the future

Highways are fundamental parts of society, connecting people and businesses across the nation, bringing families together and functioning as key enablers to many important events in a person’s life. At best, highway failures extend journeys, cause congestion and irritate road users, but at worst, they can be extremely dangerous. That’s why, in responding to them, it is essential they are corrected quickly, efficiently, and safely.

John Rodgman shares his insight into exactly how these potential failures can be dealt with now, and prevented in the future.

What exactly is a highway failure?
A general definition of highway failures are instances that damage the structure of the road. These can vary in severity, ranging from cracking and shallow potholes to impassable cracks along the carriageway. If left unchecked and unrectified, these small annoyances can soon become larger, more threatening issues, not only to drivers, but to pedestrians and cyclists, as well.

But how exactly do highway failures originate? What causes the potholes and cracks to appear down the street? Well, highways are under constant stress from the moment they are constructed, not only from excessive load, but also due to poor construction and maintenance, extreme weather events, ageing and improper materials.

Effects of highway failures
Depending on the severity of the highway failure, the effect on both road users and others can vary. Less severe issues, such as potholes and road tear, can still financially damage road users; having to repair the damage done to their vehicles because of these failures. Larger cracks can add hours to travel times through road congestion, increasing the cost of transport for businesses and potentially cause delays to travellers and deliveries.

Highway failures can also cause environmental and economic damage to the areas associated with them. High carbon emissions caused from increased congestion can severely damage the surrounding environment and areas associated with high rates of highway failure often experience negative GDP. Smaller, rural areas are at a larger risk of this occurring, as roads plagued with potholes and cracks tend to be avoided, limiting the number of visitors and investment into the town or village. With only a few roads leading into rural areas, this can effectively isolate them, should these failures remain unchecked.

Whilst all these effects mainly cause annoyance and frustration for road users, the risk of fatalities occurring must always be considered. The causes of these fatalities can emerge from almost anything, with failures being as simple as a pothole bursting a car’s tire and causing an accident. This is not to mention the damage that can be caused on high, narrow, or steep roads, should they be improperly maintained.

Example of highway failure
When faced with highway failure, Borehole Solutions is always quickly on hand. The team was called out to Yorkshire in response to a tension crack, resulting from rotational failures in the structure of the highway. Rotational failures occur when unsecure soil under the highway is unable to support the weight and pressure applied to the highway. This required immediate repairs, as the failure could become life threatening to road users if left unchecked.

To understand the failure, sonic drilling rigs were used to acquire soil data and install inclinometers for continual movement monitoring. This helps to monitor the road over time to identify any worsening to the highway’s structure long-term. These tools allow the team to quickly respond and deal with any issues that may arise in the future, preventing any major damage and risk to life from occurring again.

Preventing highway failure
Whilst it is, of course, important to quickly respond to and repair any highway failures that arise, it is equally important to prevent further damage from occurring long-term to our roads. Whilst causes of failure, such as extreme weather, can’t always be predicted, steps can be taken to limit the damage caused to the structure of the highways.

Technology and long-term monitoring
Technology is a part of everyone’s life. No matter the occupation, sector or lifestyle, chances are that technology is involved in some manner. Highway maintenance and monitoring is no exception. By utilising smart monitoring, maintenance teams can efficiently keep on top of potential problems and existing projects, enabling quick responses before any major issues occur. Prevention is the best cure, so by identifying failures before they happen, financial resources can be saved, livelihoods can be improved, and lives can, potentially, be saved.

Updated codes of conduct
Continually updated and reviewed codes of conduct are a requirement to ensure consistency amongst highway structure and responses to highway failures. More often than not, highways in major cities are responded to quickly and repaired without issue, whereas more rural areas are left to fend for themselves. Be it because of a lack of resources of quality labour, substandard attempts are made to repair these roads. Half-filled potholes and painted over cracks fail to address the problem sufficiently, causing more damage to both the roads and its users. Wherever the highway may be, it should be maintained to a consistent standard, maximising road user experience and minimising any potential dangers that could occur.

John Rodgman is managing director of the geotechnical drilling company, Borehole Solutions, a leading provider of geotechnical drilling solutions across the United Kingdom, with over two decades’ worth of experience. Whatever the site investigation needs – whether it be the smallest of city basements or a large stadium project – Borehole Solutions will provide the bespoke and tailored service that you require. Borehole Solutions is a proud member of various prestigious industry bodies – the British Drilling Association, CHAS, RISQS and Construction Line, to name but a few.
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