Government announces £20m funding for ‘digital road’ projects


Highways England says it welcomes proposals for high-tech road maintenance and connectivity systems.

The government has promised £20 million of funding for projects to create “digital roads” with smart technology.

Highways England will run competitions to find firms that want to develop innovative new technologies to make managing the country’s motorways and A-roads easier and more efficient.

The organisation has set out six key themes for which it is seeking “creative solutions”, with road maintenance, interaction with autonomous vehicles and air quality all on the agenda. And Highways England says it is also seeking high-tech solutions for “customer mobility” and energy and the environment.

In a statement, the government-run company responsible for England’s arterial routes said potential beneficiaries of the funding could include schemes as varied as roads that repair themselves or methods of communication between vehicles. Robotic construction methods were also cited as an example of potentially interesting schemes.

UK motorway roadworks on A1(M)

Entrants will be split into two competitions. One will focus on nascent schemes that need funding for feasibility studies, while the other will look at proven schemes that are in a more advanced stage of development. All projects put forward for consideration must be suitable for trials on England’s motorways and A-roads, but Highways England says companies of any size can enter.

Firms interested in putting their ideas forward will have to act fast, though, as entries close in May and the winning projects are expected to start in September. The successful bids will be administered by Innovate UK, which connects the businesses with potential partners and investors.

UK smart motorway network

Mike Wilson, Highways England’s executive director for safety, engineering and standards, said the competition would help the organisation find innovative new solutions.

“This is an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs, collaborative partnerships, and organisations of any size to help shape the roads of the future,” he said.

“We want to explore new and innovative approaches and invest in the best. And we’re keen to engage with a wider network than we have traditionally worked with. Together we can make great improvements both to people’s journeys and communities and the environment around our network.”

M1 motorway near Flitwick junction with colourful sunset

The competitions follow a £15 billion road investment currently being delivered, as well as a second programme due to start in April 2020. And in June, Highways England launched an online “innovation portal”, which is designed to help identify potential future projects to improve road safety.

This round of investment, meanwhile, is funded by the organisation’s designated ring-fenced pots of money, which have been set aside for innovation and air quality projects.