Governments and construction companies should act strategically and early

Players that once seemed far removed from the road-construction space are already finding ways to take advantage of new opportunities, particularly the ones made possible by high tech. Governments and construction companies should take key steps to stay competitive in the race toward this next revolution in transport:

Establish standards for ‘smart roads.’ European governments could create alliances among relevant private-sector players to define the playing field for digitization.

Jump-start innovation through public procurement. European governments could fund pilot projects that focus on creative solutions for the construction of digital roads.

Capture new value pools through partnerships. Traditional construction companies could partner with tech companies, such as sensor manufacturers, or analytics companies to design the data-capture systems, which will be a growing source of value.

Leverage new financing models. New technologies also create opportunities for revenue generation. Road operators might explore how smart tolls or car-data monetization could be new revenue sources.

Build requisite skills and capabilities. Traditional players will need to build the capabilities required to play in the more advanced landscape of digital roads, whether it is the skills that, say, construction companies need to deploy automated machines, or the know-how that, say, public-works agencies need to develop standards related to car-data collection and management.

Advances in road construction are fast approaching, and the time to act is now. The learning curve will be steep, but the long lead time—potentially more than 15 years—for planning and creating the conditions for constructing these new roads gives stakeholders time to prepare. That said, the various advances will likely unfold along multiple time horizons. Advances in construction materials are imminent and yield gradual optimization potential. The digitization of roads will likely occur step by step as existing roads are upgraded and modularization in construction kicks in. By contrast, roads may become narrower only after a critical number of vehicles are fully autonomous.

Additionally, many of these new features will require significant investments in brownfield upgrades of existing road infrastructure. The growing set of stakeholders in the road-construction landscape should start the collective conversation now in order to best prepare for success in the not-so-distant future.

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