The mobility of the future will be networked. Self-driving cars, roads that think for themselves, and road management that aggregates big data and directs traffic smartly. Today, we must provide the necessary infrastructure for this mobility.
It is expected that two-thirds of all newly registered vehicles will be fully autonomous by 2040. These cars will drive autonomously and be networked with other cars and the road. We should use the 20 or so years we have until then to upgrade existing infrastructure and plan new infrastructure directly with the necessary requirements.
As a result, cars will then drive themselves from one place to another while their occupants sleep or read. The car will communicate continuously with other cars, with the road network and with the road administration, so that the road administration can optimize the route in real time according to the current traffic situation. In the event of increased traffic, a vehicle is directed to an alternative route, or in the vicinity of a school, traffic is slowed down at the start and end of each school day to reduce the risk of accidents.
Considerable modernization effort
Technological progress is urgently needed because the volume of traffic on our roads is constantly increasing. The roads of the future will therefore not only have to cope with more traffic, they will also have to manage it. This requires high-performance data networks, fiber optic connections and 5G networks along the road network – that’s a significant investment even over the 20-year period.
But the effort will pay off, not only in the use of infrastructure, but also in the planning of new infrastructure. Many different social and particular interests collide in road construction. Digital communication platforms can help balance interests, complete projects more efficiently and quickly, and ultimately save costs.
A new self-image of the road administration
The most important player in this development is the road administrations. They maintain the existing infrastructure, develop it further and thus shape the standard today that we will rely on tomorrow. They will determine whether Germany will be a mobility pioneer or a follower in 20 years’ time. Six new tasks of the authorities can already be defined for this purpose:
– Road management must anticipate what its users – motorists, passengers, and pedestrians – need and want.
– It must plan and implement faster than before to meet these demands.
– It must have comprehensive knowledge of the current maintenance status of the existing infrastructure and carry out targeted maintenance.
– It needs to make the best use of the available data in order to leave out the existing infrastructure in a meaningful way.
– It must plan and design new infrastructure projects to meet evolving needs.
– And finally, it must find new forms of financing, because the current financing of trunk roads will not be able to cope with the new tasks.
In addition to the use of existing infrastructure and the planning of new projects, digitization can also support maintenance. The maintenance of existing infrastructure has become an ongoing issue in recent years. Funds for maintenance and renewal are limited and should therefore be used as efficiently as possible. The basis for this is ideally a comprehensive and detailed picture of the state of preservation and existing damage.
Sensors installed in the roads can analyze the condition of a road and report it to the road administration on a daily basis. Drone footage complements and completes this picture. Against the background of empirical values from previous maintenance measures, modern analysis tools can assess the condition of the infrastructure and predict future changes in condition. Based on this, road administrations can prioritize and control maintenance measures.
The right time
20 years is not a long time in road construction. If we want to tackle the tasks of digitization, we should start today. All the more so because the federally owned Autobahn GmbH will begin operations on January 1, 2021. It will then take over the planning, construction and maintenance of federal trunk roads from the federal states, which were previously responsible for them. The trunk road network will be managed from a single source from 2021, enabling a stringent and holistic organization. Autobahn GmbH thus became the driving force behind a competitive and high-performance road network.
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