Traffic congestion can be eased with a new mapping system, writes Mike Napper
TRAFFIC congestion on our roads is an issue which affects every one of us.
It is one thing to sit behind the wheel, fuming at yet another delay caused by an incident, but there is often more of a reaction to roadworks as a result of repairs to the services that lie beneath our routes to work or to the shops. If you recall the recent Heineken advertisement when all the service providers and contractors were shown co-operating to manage and maintain utility services via a single hole, you will know what I mean.
One reason for the increase in activity is the investment of vast sums of money by the water companies and other utilities to repair, renew and maintain the network of underground services that supply important utilities to our homes and places of work.
It is thought there are enough pipes and cables below ground in Britain to stretch to the Moon and back 10 times. Some were laid more than 200 years ago and accurate information on their precise positions is often non-existent or sketchy at best. Even modern records will be spread across numerous databases, sometimes making it very difficult for a contractor to know what plant or excavation equipment might hit when it goes into the ground.
It is no surprise that there are 30 to 40 incidents each year where workmen are seriously injured because they have accidentally sliced through electricity cables. This puts into context any delays suffered by motorists, but the lack of accurate records often means that contractors are on site longer and incur penalties from local authorities and their client.
So, how do we improve the process?
The Department of Trade and Industry is backing a project, led by the universities of Nottingham and Leeds, in a trial of new 3D-mapping technologies at six UK locations. Project Vista, as it is known, is an attempt to map the UK's underground services with the long-term aim of reducing the number of holes that need to be dug by utilities, cutting traffic jams and helping contractors operate more safely.
It is an excellent idea, yet while it is being developed problems persist. More importantly, with the on going water shortages and the issue of leaks frequently debated in the media, it is vital that the industry is seen to be taking action quickly.
From the contractor's perspective, there is already a solution available. There is very advanced equipment on the market that already detects leaks and locates utility services.
Moreover, the equipment itself, the systems and technology, and the operation of these on site, can all be improved upon by working in partnership with the manufacturers.
If contractors use the kit available and ensure that their teams continue to be trained to use it properly then the level of mislocations, accidents and time spent on site will be reduced.
Not only that, but the utility companies and contractors will be in a position to improve their performance in response to the pressure from regulators, the media and the end users as well as to guarantee the safety of their operators.
Training and the use of the latest technology holds the key to the problem.
The industry is in a very difficult position and faces a constant battle to manage and maintain the utility infrastructure of our underground services.
If we all pull together and make the most of the systems and processes available on the market then we can address the problem while the millions of miles of pipes and cables are mapped by Project Vista.
Mike Napper is managing director of Seba KMT UK