Emerging Issues for Road Construction and Maintenance – A Futuristic View

Mr Luke Whistler, Researcher, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia;
Dr Cheryl Desha, Lecturer in Sustainable Development, Queensland University of Technology, Australia,
Prof Arun Kumar, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Emeritus Professor RMIT University,
Mr Charlie Hargroves, Research Fellow, Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, Perth, and
Prof Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute.

Introduction

In the coming decades the design, construction and maintenance of roads will face a range of new issues and as such will require a number of new approaches. In particular, road authorities will be required to consider and respond to a range of issues related to climate change, and associated extreme weather events, such as the extensive flooding in January 2011 in Queensland, Australia Figure 1). Coupled with diminishing access to road construction supplies (such as aggregate), water scarcity, and the potential for increases in oil and electricity prices, this range of challenges bear little resemblance to those previously faced. In Australia, state and federal authorities face further pressures given the variety of needs resulting from the country's geographical and population diversity, expansive road networks, road freight requirements and relatively small population base.

Road construction
Figure 1: Effect of extreme weather events, Queensland January 2011 (Weerakoon)1

With emerging issues related to environmental impacts and carbon legislation, economic risks and social demands, long-term planning and resilience-building is urgently required to provide reliable and extensive road networks in future. This is particularly so in Australia, where 814,000 kilometres2 of road network spans a wide range of geographic areas Figure 2). The cost of road construction in Australia is estimated to be in the order of $17.5 billion per year. The road maintenance cost is estimated to be in the order of $5 billion per year and rising.3

Australian Major Road Networks
Figure 2: Image of Australian major road networks
This paper summarises research undertaken as part of the 'Future of Roads' project of the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc)4 in Australia that is exploring the variety and complexity of future pressures on roads. The project is supported by the state departments of Main Roads Western Australia, Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, in addition to industry partners Parsons Brinckerhoff, John Holland Group, and is supported in-kind by the Australian Green Infrastructure Council (AGIC). The research is focusing on two Australian states (Queensland and Western Australia) as examples to discuss geographical considerations and to draw together emerging common implications for cost-effectively managing road construction and maintenance related carbon emissions.

Challenges Ahead for Road Construction and Maintenance

Due to rapidly expanding economies around the world, significant changes in weather patterns, and predicted increases in energy and resource prices,5 much effort around the world is being put into responding to such challenges with creativity and innovation.6,7,8 The clear message emerging is that an opportunity exists to transform the way road infrastructure is conceived, planned and constructed, to assist society to respond to climate change, reduce a range of environmental pressures, and improve the mobility of citizens.

NBMCW September 2012

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