Navigating the future of roads – considering potential impacts of environmental and social trends on road infrastructure
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Providing mobility corridors for communities, enabling freight networks to transport goods and services, and a pathway for emergency services and disaster relief operations, roads are a vital component of our societal system. In the coming decades, a number of modern issues will face road agencies as a result of climate change, resource scarcity and energy related challenges that will have implications for society. To date, these issues have been discussed on a case by case basis, leading to a fragmented approach by state and federal agencies in considering the future of roads – with potentially significant cost and risk implications. Within this context, this paper summarises part of a research project undertaken within the ‘Greening the Built Environment’ program of the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc, Australia), which identified key factors or ‘trends’ affecting the future of roads and key strategies to ensure that road agencies can continue to deliver road infrastructure that meets societal needs in an environmentally appropriate manner. The research was conducted over two years, including a review of academic and state agency literature, four stakeholder workshops in Western Australia and Queensland, and industry consultation. The project was supported financially and through peer review and contribution, by Main Roads Western Australia, QLD Department of Transport and Main Roads, Parsons Brinckerhoff, John Holland Group, and the Australian Green Infrastructure Council (AGIC).The project highlighted several potential trends that are expected to affect road agencies in the future, including predicted resource and materials shortages, increases in energy and natural resources prices, increased costs related to greenhouse gas emissions, changing use and expectations of roads, and changes in the frequency and intensity of weather events. Exploring the implications of these potential futures, the study then developed a number of strategies in order to prepare transport agencies for the associated risks that such trends may present. An unintended outcome of the project was the development of a process for enquiring into future scenarios, which will be explored further in Stage 2 of the project (2013-2014). The study concluded that regardless of the type and scale of response by the agency, strategies must be holistic in approach, and remain dynamic and flexible.
Copyright © 2013 The Authors
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