Road infrastructure projects bridge gap between newer and older EU Member States
The results of the trailblazing 'ARCHES' and 'SPENS' projects have been presented in Ljubljana, at a conference hosted by ZAG, Slovenia’s National Building and Civil Engineering Institute.
Once upon a time, all roads led to Rome, but in modern Europe, roads lead everywhere, from the smallest village to the largest city. In fact, the European Union has a road network of more than 5.5 million km, according to the European Union Road Federation (ERF).
The EU’s road network acts like its social and economic nervous system, physically connecting nearly half a billion citizens. In addition to facilitating economic activities in a wide range of sectors, the Union’s road sector itself is worth €2 trillion a year, the ERF estimates.
Paved with good investments
The path to good road infrastructure is paved with smart investments. But while the EU’s central and eastern European members have invested substantially in their motorways in recent years, other elements of their networks have fallen somewhat by the wayside. The situation is most pronounced in the states that joined the Union in 2004 and 2007, the so-called EU-12.
Tomasz Wierzbicki of the Road and Bridge Research Institute in Warsaw (IBDiM) and coordinator of the EU-funded ARCHES project explains, “The EU-12 have focused on constructing new roads, mainly motorways, and less on maintaining existing infrastructure."
Roads in central European countries are important for the EU, he says, because they are pan-European trade corridors. In some places, roads and bridges have deteriorated to the extent that they cannot handle current volumes of traffic, let alone expected increases. In addition, road standards and technologies vary widely across borders. This is partly due to local conditions, but also local traditions.
New research avenues
After three years on the road to knowledge, the ARCHES and SPENS projects, both clustered under the 'CERTAIN' umbrella initiative, have signposted the way towards more sustainable road and bridge infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe.
Project partners say SPENS has developed a set of new and more effective tools and procedures for rapid and cost-effective road rehabilitation and maintenance. Meanwhile, ARCHES has developed ways to raise the standard of highway structures in the EU-12. On 27-28 August 2009, the results of these two trailblazing projects were presented at a conference in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.
Taking as its maxim that prevention is better than cure, explained Wierzbicki, ARCHES explored ways of improving road maintenance in order to minimise corrosion and unnecessary – not to mention costly – interventions. The project looked at maximising load capacity, destroying two test bridges in Poland and Slovenia in the process. It also investigated optimal means of monitoring and preventing damage and corrosion, such as cathodic protection, and ways of strengthening and hardening existing structures.
One area of particular concern is materials. Some traditional materials are not up to the job of coping with heavy traffic flows and the types of vehicles frequenting today's roads, while newer materials that are used in one country may not be appropriate in another.
“The present volume of heavy transport, such as articulated lorries, raises the need for new resilient materials, not only in the newer Member State but also in the older ones,” explains Mojca Ravnikar Turk of ZAG, the coordinator of the SPENS project.
SPENS investigated ways of improving pavement structures, such as steel reinforcement and steel slag, evaluated the environmental and economic costs and benefits of potential materials that can be used to upgrade roads, and developed methods for the non-destructive monitoring of existing road structures.
Researchers from both projects expressed their determination that the results will not stay in the lab. They have already embarked on the road to encouraging the relevant stakeholders to put them into action.
“Projects like ARCHES and SPENS are designed to better meet the needs of end-users in order to reduce barriers to implementation,” concluded Steve Phillips, director of the Forum of European National Highway Research Laboratories (FEHRL). “This should not be the end of ASHES and SPENS. This should be the beginning of their implementation.”
“Road infrastructure plays an important role in delivering sustainability,” said William Bird, project officer at the Commission’s Research Directorate-General, “and ARCHES and SPENS will help maintain freedom of movement without sacrificing the environment. We should be proud of the results of these projects.”