Road developers have begun to digitalise their internal processes by moving towards a common data environment and the creation of digital twins to expedite project delivery. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been taking numerous digital initiatives to increase operational efficiencies, not just in construction works but also to enable smooth movement of passenger and freight traffic through enhanced logistical efficiency. Technology has started to take centre stage through tolling-related solutions such as intelligent transit management system, pay-as-you-use tolling, hybrid tolling, and integration of FASTag with e-way bill.
Key technology initiatives
Highway toll management systems
Highway toll management systems (TMS) usually incorporate the latest technologies to prevent leakage in toll collection. India’s first successfully implemented closed loop TMS (over 160 Lanes) was deployed on the Agra-Lucknow expressway. TMS have also been deployed on the Eastern Peripheral Expressway and in the Nagpur-Betul project. The highway traffic management system (HTMS) on the Expressway includes CCTVs with incident detection, emergency call box, speed sentry warning devices, pavement management, weigh-in motion sensors for trucks carrying heavy loads, and a fibre optic network wherein all information collected from HTMS equipment is relayed to a central server in the control room. The distance-based TMS is equipped with automated ticket dispensing machines, which are not only expected to reduce transaction time, but also help NHAI in reducing toll plaza operations cost by almost 50 per cent.
FASTag declared mandatory
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has decided that all lanes in the fee plazas on national highways shall be declared as FASTag lanes with effect from midnight of February 15/16, 2021. Any vehicle not fitted with a FASTag or any vehicle without a valid,
functional FASTag entering into a FASTag lane of a fee plaza is liable to pay a fee equivalent to two times of the fee applicable to that category. NHAI has also decided to do away with the requirement of maintaining a minimum amount in a FASTag wallet. The authority has removed the mandatory threshold amount for a FASTag account/wallet, which was paid by a user in addition to their security deposit. However, after crossing the toll plaza, if a user’s account balance becomes negative, the issuer bank can recover the amount from the security deposit, which should be replenished at the time of the next recharge by the user.
Weigh-in-motion (WIM) technology prevents damage to roads and maintains safety by ensuring that vehicles are not overloaded. Using this technology, vehicles are weighed while they are in motion and passing over a scale installed on the road. The Eastern Peripheral Expressway became the first expressway in the country to have WIM sensors deployed at all 30 entry points. Four medium speed WIM technologies are allowed by Indian Highways Management Company Limited. These are bending plate, hybrid bending plate with six/eight load cells, platform type with four load cells and piezoelectric sensor based systems.
Drones to monitor projects
To enhance transparency and uniformity, and leverage the latest technology, NHAI has made it mandatory to use drones for monthly video recording of national highway projects during all stages of development, construction, operation and maintenance. Contractors and concessionaires are to carry out the drone video recording in the presence of a supervision consultant and upload comparative project videos from the current and last month on NHAI’s portal “Data Lake”, capturing various project related developments during the month. Supervision consultants shall analyse these videos and provide comments on the digital monthly progress reports, covering various aspects of project development. These videos will also be used by NHAI officials during physical inspection of the projects to check for discrepancies and rectifications made basis the earlier observations. Additionally, project directors of NHAI will undertake monthly drone surveys from the date of signing a contract agreement till the start of construction on a project at site, and upon completion of the project. NHAI will also undertake monthly drone surveys for all developed projects where NHAI is responsible for operation and maintenance.
pavement engineering and intelligent transportation systems
Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) plans to collaborate with MoRTH on pavement engineering and intelligent transportation systems. The plans involve research on novel pavement materials and technologies, hydrogen cell transportation, automatic vehicle classification, novel toll systems, incident management systems, traveller information systems, FASTag data analytics and traffic simulations besides transportation safety. A “MoRTH Chair” will be established at IIT-M, the memorandum of understanding for which was signed on August 17, 2021. The chair professor will act as a strategic advisor to MoRTH in the field of Road Transport and Highways. MoRTH, in coordination with the Telangana police, health and transport departments, has launched an Integrated Road Accident Database project with an aim to build a comprehensive database of road accidents across the state on a demo basis. The district police units of Hyderabad and Nizamabad have already started training their police officials. The app has also been launched in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. After an in-depth study by a team at IIT-M, corrective measures will be adopted to prevent further accidents.
EV charging stations
NHAI is planning to set up several electric vehicle (EV) charging stations that will help in boosting EV infrastructure in India. The plan is part of real estate development along the national highways across the country. Reportedly, NHAI has identified more than 650 properties across 22 states with a combined area of over 3,000 hectares to develop highway infrastructure. NHAI will team up with the private sector in the next five years to undertake the development programme. A total of 94 sites have been identified along the upcoming Delhi-Mumbai expressway, 376 sites along new highways and expressways under construction, and around 180 sites along an existing network of highways across the country. The authority has already invited bids for 138 out of the 650 sites identified and has received several responses from private entities.
The way forward
To improve road safety, all new national highways being developed under NHAI will sport advanced traffic management systems (ATMS). The ATMS will enable immediate location identification of areas where traffic bottlenecks occur due to accidents or other reasons, and instant provision of information to motorists on that stretch. The system will help reduce fatal road accidents on national highways.
NHAI is also in the process of implementing geospatial network planning. For the project preparation stage, it has successfully adopted remote sensing for topographic survey/ mapping, radar-based subsurface utility mapping, auto traffic counter classifiers and digital cadastral mapping, while 3D modelling is currently under implementation. The authority has launched a project monitoring information system mobile application to facilitate close, in-house monitoring of its projects via mobile phones. Going forward, the authority is planning to use more advanced construction technologies and materials, as well as supervisory control and data acquisition systems and geographic information system-based land asset management.