Greener roads

How can the road-making process be made more sustainable?
28 May 2019

Interview with 

Julian Lamb, Highways England

building a road - a14 project

building a road


Can the road-making process be made more sustainable? Katie Haylor asked civil engineer Julian Lamb, deputy director for the A14 project, working on behalf of Highways England...

Julian - So we always try to minimise the impact that we have, and eliminate things and reduce and recycle wherever we can. We have zero materials going to landfill and we've had some solar power generators on some of our satellite offices. Some of our temporary lighting has been through solar power, and also we have made sure that our supply of energy for our main compound areas are through a renewable energy guarantee.

Katie - Is there anything that can be done to try and minimise the amount of carbon that we're using for things like cement?

Julian - We try to minimise where we can and obviously the foundation layer to the pavement is just a granular, naturally occurring material. Ultimately the materials that the traffic rides on, it needs a certain strength and therefore, you know, unfortunately we do have to use cements, we have to use bitumens. And then some of the structures, the spans that we have to cross, we have to invest in materials like steel. It's all essential in order to carry out the work that we have to do.

Katie - So what can be done then to try and minimise the environmental impact?

Julian - The planting of trees is certainly something that we're doing. And really just trying to minimise the impact through refinement of the design to make sure that we are meeting a specification, but not going over and above what is necessary, and therefore being heavy on carbon input to the project.

Katie - Looking to the future of construction, are there any big changes that you think we will need to take into consideration as we're moving towards a more sustainable way of living?

Julian - We're certainly already trying to look more and more at offsite construction and assembly. We're also looking now at autonomous plant; a few weeks ago we did a trial with an autonomous articulated dump truck, and that's something that I think we will see coming into the industry in the future. We have a shortage of operators and we have an increasing need for doing bulk earthworks operations, so the autonomous vehicle will provide that opportunity to fill the gap. As part of the scheme we are in certain areas using very low noise surfacing, in areas where there are people living nearby. That's reducing the amount of noise at source.

We also have environmental barriers that sit on the extreme of the scheme to also try to reduce the amount of noise that's travelling past, but noise barriers will contain noise that is close to it, whereas the very low noise surfacing is reducing the noise at source, where the noise is generated. The downside to that is the material that is used is not as durable as other surfaces that we might use, so it will need to be replaced more frequently.

Katie - Now what about electric vehicles? They are becoming cheaper, they are becoming more accessible to people, the battery life is improving so we can do longer journeys. But a big criticism at the moment is the amount of charging stations. Are you planning to factor in any charging stations on the A14?

Julian - So the longer term plan for Highways England is to attempt to have charging points at approximately 20 mile distances along the strategic road network.

Katie - Got to ask - do you have a favorite road?

Julian - Yeah! Any road that's moving.


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