New directions

Increased traffic volumes, digitalisation and an ageing road network are placing greater demands on the road transport system. Director General Lena Erixon discusses how the Swedish Transport Administration is facing today’s challenges with an eye on the future.

The Swedish road network

98,500 km of national roads
42,300 km of municipal roads
74,000 km private roads with State subsidies
16,600bridges, over twenty tunnels and 39 ferry routes

The Swedish road network is generally of a good standard. But there are major challenges that are making it difficult to maintain the current status. This is the message emerging in the national plan for transport infrastructure that the Swedish Government adopted for the period 2018-2029.

“It’s true that for a time we’ll be seeing a worsening of the state of the road network, primarily in the low-trafficked parts,” says Lena Erixon, Director General of the Swedish Transport Administration. “The reason is that the roads were built a relatively long time ago and traffic is increasing, especially the heavy goods traffic.”

In addition to this, the Swedish Transport Administration was given the task a year or so ago of making sure that trucks of up to 74 tonnes, instead of the previous 64 tonnes, are able to travel on large parts of the road network.

“This increase is good news both for business and for the climate, as you can transport the same volume of goods using fewer vehicles, although this does of course place a bigger load on the roads,” confirms Lena Erixon.

An ageing road network and increased traffic volumes is an equation that is difficult to solve, one that many countries in Europe are struggling with. The solution is prioritisation. As far as Sweden is concerned, this means more resources for corrective maintenance such as repairing potholes and resurfacing, while there are fewer resources for preventive maintenance and reinvestments.

“The government is also allocating less money to new investments in the road network in favour of the railway,” explains Lena Erixon. “The investments that are being made in the roads are aimed in the first instance at enhanced road safety, including the use of central reservations (2+1 roads) and the widening of existing roads.

”In parallel with the challenge of handling limited resources, the Swedish Transport Administration has to make use of the opportunities presented by technological developments. The ongoing process of digitalisation means that vehicles can have access to information in real time in a totally different way than before.

But it also means that the road owner can retrieve information directly from vehicles instead of, as before, from fixed measuring locations, which entail some delay. One example is the Swedish Transport Administration’s “Digital Winter” project, which makes it possible to make the transition much faster, for example, in the event of ice, and thereby to be more accurate in the action you take.

“What we saw in research twenty years ago is being tested in practise today. This means that in the future we’ll see more automation, connection and electrification of the road network,” believes Lena Erixon.

New technology can also make the situation safer for those working on the roads.

“At present we don’t have a sufficiently safe work environment. First of all, we have to reduce speeding close to roadworks, and there are discussions under way with our contractors about how we can resolve this problem with the aid of new technology. There are also plans to include such requirements in our tendering processes.”

Ultimately, it is all about being able to make sure that all the digital tools currently being introduced are actually used. And this in turn requires contractors to invest in training, skills development and new equipment, with the encouragement of the Swedish Transport Administration.

“As the procuring authority, we must be able to specify demands for functions that encourage contractors to start using and investing in new technology. This also requires us to take a long-term view, so that people are willing to make the necessary investments. This transition will affect both us as a government agency and contractors and their employees,” concludes Lena Erixon.

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