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Highway Engineering: Latest Innovations and Technologies

Highway engineering involves the design and construction of high-speed roads. Discover the innovations revolutionizing the sector

Designing linear infrastructure requires a completely different approach from that used in building design.

In this article, we’ll focus on highway engineering to understand its specifics and discover the technological innovations driving its change. We’ll also analyze the fundamental yet highly complex role played by highway engineers.

If you’re part of this category, know that you can significantly simplify your work by leveraging the benefits of BIM methodology for infrastructure and adopting specialized software solutions.

One of these solutions is represented by software for structural health monitoring. Start using this system immediately to enrich your BIM models with real-time data collected from IoT sensors, ensuring constant monitoring and timely interventions to preserve the safety and integrity of your infrastructures over time.

What Is Highway Engineering?

Highway engineering is a branch of civil engineering, specifically within transportation engineering, dedicated to the design, construction, and maintenance of high-speed road networks.

The goal of this discipline is to create efficient transportation networks capable of optimizing traffic flow and ensuring the safety of all vehicles traversing them.

Highway engineering differs from building design as it deals with the development of linear infrastructures characterized by considerable complexity and extensive territorial coverage.

The common challenges faced by this sector daily include:

  • user safety;
  • environmental impact;
  • traffic congestion;
  • maintenance;
  • adaptation to new technologies.

Addressing these challenges requires the intervention of specialized professionals equipped with the necessary technical, managerial, and environmental skills.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at the role played by highway engineers to fully understand the importance of the entire sector.

highway construction

highway construction

Highway Engineers: who are they and what do they do?

Highway engineers are highly specialized professionals who lead the design and construction processes of roads and highways and handle all aspects related to maintenance of these infrastructures, including traffic lanes, bridges, tunnels, galleries, underpasses, overpasses, access and exit ramps, rest areas, safety barriers, lighting systems, etc.

The role of highway engineers is essential because it ensures the safety and efficiency of transportation networks we use daily. The main duties and responsibilities of these professionals include:

  • Feasibility analysis: Highway engineers are responsible for designing all structures composing a highway. Typically, this process starts with a preliminary study to determine the project’s feasibility, where they analyze existing data to predict future traffic flows, gather topographical data of the area, identify alternative routes, and assess the environmental impact of the intervention;
  • Infrastructure design: Following the preliminary analysis, there’s the actual design phase, defining the geometric configuration, materials, dimensions, and structural aspects of various infrastructure components;
  • Time and budget estimation: Highway engineers quantify the time and costs needed for project completion. They manage the budget to ensure efficient fund utilization and also coordinate human and material resources to ensure the project is delivered on time and in line with predetermined specifications;
  • Site organization: Once the design phase is complete, highway engineers must develop a detailed plan outlining goals and resources necessary to successfully complete the construction phase. They must develop a site layout graphically illustrating the location of temporary structures like offices, warehouses, storage areas, and access points, allowing efficient flow of materials and equipment;
  • Safety management: Highway engineers must adopt necessary measures to ensure the safety of workers during the construction phase and users who will use the infrastructure once completed;
  • Maintenance planning: Once built and open to traffic, a highway requires continuous and meticulous maintenance. It falls upon highway engineers to plan and oversee maintenance activities to ensure safe circulation and preserve the infrastructure’s integrity over time.
Activities of highway engineers

Activities of highway engineers

Points of convergence between highway engineering and bridge engineering

Highway engineering shares numerous similarities with bridge engineering since both disciplines focus on the design of complex structures, of significant scale, aimed at connecting distant locations while ensuring safety and efficiency in transportation.

Bridges can be an integral part of a highway and must be designed, alongside all other structures, to ensure a smooth and safe traffic flow. Apart from this direct connection, the two fields share additional characteristics.

Both require advanced skills in structural design, as well as in-depth knowledge of geology and soil conditions.

Furthermore, both bridge and highway designs must consider traffic requirements and structural load-bearing capacities to ensure they can withstand heavy loads and resist natural forces such as wind, rain, and extreme events.

However, what perhaps most aligns bridge engineering with highway engineering involves inspection and maintenance. These infrastructures indeed require constant monitoring to ensure timely and targeted interventions and necessitate ongoing maintenance to ensure all elements remain in good working condition.

The process encompassing all activities necessary to ensure proper management and maintenance of existing infrastructures (including highways) is referred to as Infrastructure Asset Management

Design and construction of highways: what has changed compared to the past

Managing the aspects revolving around the creation and maintenance of a highway isn’t a simple operation.

However, in recent years, there has been a significant evolution, primarily due to the introduction of Building Information Modeling (BIM), Digital Twins, and the Internet of Things (IoT). These innovative technologies simplify the work of highway engineers and contribute to building more efficient, safe, and sustainable infrastructures.

BIM, for instance, allows designers to create 3D virtual models representing the entire road infrastructure, offering a comprehensive and interconnected overview of the project. These models facilitate collaboration with stakeholders and promote more accurate and efficient design.

The integration between Digital Twins and IoT constitutes a powerful tool in highway engineering. It virtually represents the physical infrastructure and communicates with it in real-time. Sensors distributed along traffic routes enable highway engineers to continuously monitor their structures and use the collected data to promptly solve issues, enhance safety, and plan preventive maintenance actions.

If you work in highway engineering and aim to improve your processes by adopting these technologies, I suggest trying out:

  • a Refactoring & Merge system for IFC files, a tool that helps resolve complexity related to the territorial extension of your highway works by federating multiple large IFC files into a single BIM model;
  • a software for structural health monitoring, a system allowing you to collect real-time data about your structures’ behavior through IoT sensors and visualize them directly on the BIM model to facilitate issue resolution and ensure timely interventions in case of anomalies;
  • an infrastructure asset management software, enabling you to georeference your assets and plan, monitor, and manage all activities related to the maintenance of your highway infrastructures from a centralized platform, facilitating communication with stakeholders.