Community experience and construction worker safety: the highway to a better Queensland

Contribution from Micah Gabriels, co-founder and CEO of real-time construction technology platform Mooven.
Bruce Highway - Works - QLD
Image courtesy of Queensland Government

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest data, of all the states, Queensland gained the biggest boost from net interstate migration over the September 2021 quarter.

We can largely attach this to the state’s ‘millennial migration’, centred on the problems in housing affordability, congestion and infrastructure bottlenecks happening across Sydney and Melbourne.

To keep up with the jobs and population growth, the state has made substantial investments in infrastructure and public transport over the past decade, but the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) says it’s repeatedly faced significant challenges in harnessing opportunities and mitigating associated risks, like increased congestion.

As Queensland continues to build, how we go about this – and how we improve motorist experience and construction worker safety – will be just as key as the infrastructure that is developed.

We’re talking about traffic monitoring

All major highway projects in Queensland have some level of traffic monitoring requirement involved. Contractors are expected to carry out 30 days of baseline travel time monitoring pre-construction, as well as during construction and sometimes one-to-two months after completion.

The purpose is to gather information that continuously informs decision making to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum, while conforming to compliance standards.

By capturing journey time information, contractors can be held accountable for the impact their work is having. There is a silver lining too as this information can be used to adjust their work to ensure that they are having minimal impact on the road users and local community whilst keeping their clients informed.

The outcome is delivering infrastructure that considers better community experience, road user and worker safety, and faster completion times.

For example, if you’re managing a high-risk situation – projects near shopping centres or high-profile intersections – or experiencing excessive delays around a site, monitoring queues (where and when they occur, how long the queue is, and the impact on motorists) can help mitigate issues before they spiral out of control.

Monitoring provides contractors and government agencies the granular visibility they need to understand when traffic is backing up beyond acceptable levels, determine what’s causing the issue and trigger specific actions. With the right context, it’s easier to deliver better outcomes for the community.

Travel time and queue monitoring is almost always required, but the reality we face is it is often softly enforced or delivered to the minimum requirements.

Why? Difficulty, time and cost. As soon as a project is awarded, there is immediate pressure for work to begin both as a visible sign of progress to the public and for the project to be commercially viable for the contractor.

This pressure has failed to serve traditional ways of collecting travel time and queue monitoring information. Historically, methods have involved the installation of expensive roadside hardware or the use of human observation, which not only takes time to procure and setup but requires dedicated effort to interpret into a usable form.

The challenge is compounded because this traditional way of collecting information often puts people in harm’s way – asking a construction worker to monitor a section of road for upwards of two hours and not divert their attention is not only difficult, but dangerous.

Due to these complexities, this work has often been deprioritised (or not seen as critical) in the interest of getting started. But the knock-on effect of this initial decision making can lead to loss of productivity, efficiency and opportunities throughout the rest of the build.

An impetus for change

With more and more roads being built across the state, and the need to better protect stakeholder safety and experience, the Government is raising the bar on its traffic control mandates. Smart technology will be at the epicentre.

At the end of 2021, Queensland experienced two fatal incidents at road sites – one of which was an end-of-queue collision involving an ambulance and truck – applying further pressure for change.

With digital technology at our fingertips, there is a better way now that leverages modern datasets, creating the ability to understand journey times, customer experience and queuing in rich granularity without the need for workers on-foot.

We also don’t need to be limited to passive collection and monthly reporting. The benefits of collecting a rich understanding of road performance extend to communications, with the ability to use this information to provide accurate, live travel advice directly to motorists, helping to both minimise congestion and manage expectations. Nudging even 10 per cent of motorists down a faster alternative road can significantly speed up delivery.

Ultimately, this reduces frustration, complaints, congestion, and potential accidents, overall improving road user experience.

Getting stuck in traffic queues is one of the more frustrating aspects of driving in any urban or rural area and staying at the forefront of motorist expectations requires a smarter, more connected approach.

It’s not an easy task to build an airplane while flying it but this is the task at hand. Queensland is pushing the status quo in many ways others aren’t. It’s putting new technologies and innovation at the heart of safety and user experience so we get the state of the future, sooner.

Micah Gabriels is co-founder and CEO of real-time construction technology platform Mooven


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