Government's road strategy is full of potholes
This morning I was greeted with the headline: ‘Government to improve road journeys across the country with £93 million investment and cutting-edge transport tech.’
The government announcement promised to fix the UK’s growing pothole problem – among other transport woes – with Roads Minister Baroness Vere claiming: “There is nothing more frustrating than a journey delayed by poor road conditions, and this multi-million pound boost will help improve connectivity across the country.”
Great, I thought, having spent the previous 45 minutes swerving as safely as possible around dozens of crumbling areas of road.
Looking deeper, however, the tech claim in the headline amounted to just £900,000 investment in two projects: an AI-powered app to detect potholes in real-time, using mobile phone sensors to measure when cyclists ride over or swerve to avoid them; and Shape-Pot, which will create 3D pothole models to create a fully autonomous repair platform capable of automatic repairs.
I’m sure these projects have potential. But Shape-Pot, for example, is so early stage that it is yet to even create a proof-of-principle prototype.
In a smart world connected through billions of Internet of Things-enabled devices, shouldn’t we be further along the road than this?
Forgive my scepticism, but many of the potholes I negotiate every day are in the middle or right-hand lane, so how is a cyclist going to flag those?
As far back as four years ago, entrepreneur Steve Purdham outlined a smart city vision where potholes are a thing of the past, telling a BusinessCloud IoT roundtable: “There are thousands of sensors going up and down the roads every millisecond… thousands of cars will be sending data which says ‘my wheel has just dropped three centimetres’, creating the knowledge to bring out the man in the van with the tar to flatten it out.”
If half as much investment was put into developing partnerships and technologies to proactively manage tarmac’s condition as is allocated to belatedly fixing it, surely we could have roads fit for the 21st Century by now.
Indeed, we’ve been here before. A year ago a similar government announcement promised £23m for research and trials on new surface materials or pothole repair. I haven’t anything about these trials since.
The Live Labs projects across nine councils are due to run until spring 2021, so perhaps I’m being too impatient and something will result from them.
I just hope that in five years’ time, we won’t all still be moaning about the state of our roads while the government of the day announces drop-in-the-ocean funding for a repair prototype.