Protecting people on the move this winter: Balfour Beatty features in Highways Today

Steve Helliwell, Managing Director of Balfour Beatty Living Places, has featured in Highways Today exploring how the company is gearing up to deliver critical winter maintenance services for communities across the UK.

In the article, Steve discusses the increasing frequency of extreme weather events in the UK due to rising global temperatures and the challenges this has posed for maintaining critical infrastructure like road networks.

He explores the use of advanced technologies to monitor conditions, prioritise routes, and efficiently allocate resources to keep people moving safely in the winter season.

Commenting on how to mitigate these challenges, Steve said: “The impacts of climate change on the winter season are showing no signs of abating. The challenges require dedicated teams – just like ours – that know what they’re doing and are ready to respond and adapt with agility to the changes in weather patterns.”

Over recent years, extreme weather events have become more frequent in the UK. Rising global temperatures are causing changes to the jet stream, resulting in severe storms, heavy rainfall, snowfall, and flooding.

All of these factors pose significant challenges for Councils, as they work hard to maintain critical infrastructure such as local road networks, and keep people on the move.

That is why the winter maintenance services we provide are so important.

Last year alone, Balfour Beatty Living Places gritted 602,852 kilometres of road, maintained 8,253 grit bins and used over 47,000 tonnes of salt – with our teams working over 26,000 hours on delivering these critical services up and down the country.

And we do all of these across a wide range of landscapes, right through from bustling city centres to rural areas. Our adaptability and local knowledge is key. Take Southampton for example – a busy coastal city – where our winter maintenance team navigates through the urban setting to prioritise key routes near schools and hospitals.

But the shift in weather conditions and patterns is making it much more difficult for our teams to prepare for the winter months. One of the biggest challenges faced by our teams is determining when to grit the local road networks, particularly as there has been a sharp increase in flooding events which require us to reallocate resource.

We have to monitor conditions around-the-clock to ensure priority routes are kept clear during extreme weather events and that salt barns are fully stocked for our gritting teams. To do this, we use Met Office data and the latest tracking technologies on our fleet of gritters, so that we can deliver effective gritting services at short notice and respond swiftly to any incidents on our networks.

Our Operational Control Hubs are also instrumental in driving efficiencies in the delivery of our winter maintenance services. Our Operational Control Hubs use innovative technologies and artificial intelligence systems designed in-house to provide a single source of visibility to monitor all activities in real-time and drive efficiencies across the entire local road networks.

Each Hub serves as a control room and allows operational teams to prioritise work based on the location of vehicles and availability of crew members, capture when tasks are completed and intervene where required to keep any outstanding activities on track.

However, they don’t just monitor our activities. They also play a critical role in monitoring salt usage and recording temperature and condition data that influences our planning and decision making during the winder period.

From this data we now know that the impacts of climate change have resulted in longer summers, but shorter and more harsher winters. Cold snaps are more abrupt and unpredictable, particularly in rural areas such as Herefordshire, where in 2021, there was a 36% increase in the number of gritting runs required.

The impacts of climate change on the winter season are showing no signs of abating. The challenges require dedicated teams – just like ours – that know what they’re doing and are ready to respond and adapt with agility to the changes in weather patterns.

Councils around the country are going to continue looking towards innovative solutions that can mitigate the various impacts of adverse and harsh weather conditions to ensure that residents and businesses can confidently navigate the challenges of winter safely and with minimal disruption. And at Balfour Beatty Living Places, we are primed and ready to support.

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