Transport infrastructure of the future – why efficiency is key

Infrastructure UK Ellis Fox Blog

At a conference in London this week, the head of the National Infrastructure Commission, James Health, shared his view of the role of infrastructure. It goes without saying that good infrastructure is necessary for a healthy economy. But the definition of what this looks like is changing.

The needs of cities and rural areas are evolving, climate events are impacting design of new infrastructure, types of transport are changing, and environmental concerns regarding emissions are influencing policy and decision making. That’s a lot to take into consideration. Especially when sustainability is a priority.

The sustainability being referred to is not just the impact on the planet, it relates to almost every element of infrastructure. The UK’s ambitious goals to end the sale of combustion engines by 2030 were made with the right intent, but as many researchers have highlighted, that alone will not be enough to achieve net-zero and improve transport infrastructure. If anything, it creates even more challenges.

For a start, the UK is woefully behind in rolling out an adequate EV charging infrastructure. There has been significant investment and project starts but progress has been slow. Some argue that EV’s are not the solution as replacing one type of vehicle with another doesn’t reduce the demand on infrastructure. Instead, they’re suggesting developing better public transport alternatives so that the volume of vehicles on roads decrease.

There’s a similar call for commercial transport as there are still large volumes of materials and products that are transported by road. These heavy vehicles are contributing significantly to emissions as well as wear and tear on highways.  It would be a simple solution to switch to rail. But in many instances the rail links between destinations are lacking especially outside of major cities. Improvements are planned, but aren’t keeping up to growing needs.

What this highlights is that a rethink is needed on the approach to developing and maintaining infrastructure. Focusing on the needs of cities, industry and the climate, with efficiency at the heart of planning and implementation.

How can the flow of commuters and transport be improved? How can energy use and emissions be reduced? How can transport connections link more hubs, more efficiently, creating a broader and more effective transport network to support the economy? There’s no simple answer, but working collaboratively to find solutions is the best way forward for transport infrastructure development.