A new report by the International Transport Forum (ITF) presents policy options for extending the life of road assets by mitigating deterioration caused by trucks. Beyond traditional engineering responses, it considers the role of trucks in road asset deterioration from a demand-oriented perspective.
Transport agencies acknowledge the problems they face with aging infrastructure and understanding the mechanisms that cause deterioration. Budgetary constraints and competition for scarce public resources often inhibit or delay maintenance activities. Simultaneously, the demand for road freight transport continues to rise and become more complex. These trends are likely to continue, making proactive asset management ever more difficult.
Digitalization offers new opportunities to prolong asset life through a better and close to a real-time understanding of the structure of demand and the impact of truck traffic on pavements and bridges.
Current policies maintaining road assets
Transport agencies plan, design, build, operate, and maintain their infrastructure assets, notably pavements, quay walls, and bridges, to serve transport demand and sustain healthy economies. Road agencies strive to contain costs by extending the life of assets and protecting them from deterioration caused by trucks. However, designing and implementing policies that are effective and extend the life of road assets in practice is not straightforward.
A new policy framework for maintaining and managing road assets in a cost-effective way and meeting road freight transport demand on a sustainable basis is needed. This framework should encompass policies of three types:
Demand-responsive policies: Prolonging road asset life requires better alignment of infrastructure maintenance and management actions with current and future road freight transport demand.
Policies that regulate demand: Road infrastructure protection is a common objective of truck regulation and enforcement. However, the pursuit of regulatory compliance typically occurs outside the civil engineering domain and without a clear understanding of the complexities of asset management.
Policies that influence demand: Policies in this category have seldom been considered as opportunities to extend the life of road assets. These policies aim to purposefully influence real-time and longer-term road freight transport decisions and behaviors. Their gradual and careful integration into asset management strategies increases the number of options the standard toolkit for road managers.
Trucks matter for pavements, quay walls and bridges
Regardless of the type of policy considered (responding, regulating or influencing), a fuller understanding is necessary of current and future road freight transport demand, of the trucks that serve this demand, and of the mechanisms by which the utilization of transport infrastructure deteriorates road assets.
The digitalisation of asset management and logistics, together with increasing vehicle and infrastructure connectivity, can provide the data to support a comprehensive approach. In fact, this opportunity has motivated many transport agencies to consider data itself as an asset that requires attention and careful management.
Successful implementation of new approaches requires regular and meaningful stakeholder consultation. Challenging policy goals are more likely to be achieved when there is effective collaboration amongst policy makers, infrastructure owners, the freight transport industry, and experts in relevant knowledge domains such as pavements, bridges, vehicle technology, regulations, traffic management, and logistics.
Introduce a proactive approach for the maintenance of road assets
A proactive approach for the maintenance of road assets is critical to ensure a robust network and efficient cost management vis-a-vis increased road use by trucks and climate change impacts. Improved interaction between road managers and policy makers will raise awareness of the consequences of delayed or postponed decisions and the need to invest in long-term databases to provide insight into these risks.
Build a proactive, data-driven approach to the maintenance of road assets
Modelling the development of traffic demand and anticipating growing demands on the network provides valuable planning support for pavement and bridge maintenance. It can be translated into improvements in traffic safety, road capacity, accessibility and user mobility as well as higher ride quality and comfort.
Strive for continuous professionalisation in road asset management
Establishing development plans and backing these up with sufficient resources will go a long way to ensure continuous professionalisation. The future-proofing of road asset management systems should include planning approaches to respond to variations in user requirements, explicit consideration of risk in asset management, access to data from advanced ICT systems and effective governance arrangements for cross-jurisdictional alignment.
Move from managing the assets to cross-asset management
For road organisations that have mastered asset management practices for individual assets (such as a road section or a bridge) or groups of assets, the next challenge is to apply and harmonize practices across all assets to support users’ door-to-door trips.
Adopt regulatory frameworks that treat the use of road assets as an economic input
Measuring the use of road assets in terms of economic utility will increase the productivity of road freight transport. This could include assessing the full breadth of economic costs and benefits that can be derived, identifying opportunities to reduce pavement and bridge wear through regulatory frameworks, adopting performance-based standards to vehicle design to enable innovation and adopting intelligent access policies that allow specific types of transports to travel on restricted parts of the network.
Implement infrastructure pricing for trucks to improve cost recovery
Cost recovery for infrastructure could include adopting incremental charging based on distance travelled and/or mass carried from operators whose truck combinations increase road asset wear. It could also make use of regulatory or financial incentives to encourage operators to use road-friendly vehicles and share data.
Better understand the reasons for non-compliance with truck weight limits
A good understanding of the reasons for non-compliance with permissible weight limits for trucks allows selecting the right approach for an effective compliance framework. This requires collecting evidence on the current level of non-compliance. It also requires ensuring that compliance management frameworks are outcome-focused and that the design of regulatory frameworks supports the compliance strategy
Focus on positive incentives for efficiency in regulatory and compliance frameworks
Innovative approaches to regulatory design and compliance will implement the carrot and stick method. To provide incentives for transport operators to comply with regulations, measures might include mechanisms for accreditation and self-regulation, state-of-the-art approaches to manage vehicle weight, as well as the use of telematics and related intelligent technologies.
Develop use cases and business models for the digital infrastructure of truck traffic management
While the development of digital infrastructure comes with uncertainties, different use cases will help to identify the digital infrastructure requirements for effective truck traffic management.
Create incentives for the logistics sector to implement truck traffic management
There are many potential benefits that encourage logistics providers to adopt systematic truck traffic management. These include fewer road works, wider access to areas or objects with limited access, shorter travel times and higher delivery time reliability. Reaping such benefits will also increase the willingness of the logistics sector to share the vehicle and/or company data, which in turn could be used to reduce the cost of implementing truck traffic management strategies.
Improve awareness of the mutual impact that policies have on the environmental performance of road freight transport and extending the lifespan of road assets
Infrastructure should be considered as one of the foundations of a sustainable freight transport system, as it is a key enabler of environmentally and socially responsible freight activity. Measures designed to improve the environmental performance of road freight transport can often contribute to a longer life span of road assets. Where this is not the case, a multi-modal, cross-function and multi-stakeholder approach enables a reasonable social trade-off assessment to be made.
Focus on creating a comprehensive regulatory environment rather than on individual measures
Policies aimed at extending the life of road assets are best supported by bundles of appropriate measures. These include cross-modal infrastructure investments, performance-based standards and coherent pricing structures for infrastructure use that encourage shippers, forwarders, and carriers to reduce the number of trucks and the number of kilometers driven.