Why we should be using data scientists in highway projects

14th Mar 2024

As part of CIHT’s ‘digital and data’ theme for March and April 2024, we look at the value of using data scientists to support highway projects, with insights from CIHT Technical Champion Emily See about the projects she has been involved with that utilised data scientists.

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What is data science?

‘Data science’ as a term has been around since the late nineties, but as a concept it has probably existed for as long as we have been collecting, processing and analysing large quantities of data to discover meaningful insights. 

Today, data science allows us to manage and learn from the data we collect by using tools such as algorithms, statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

To help understand data science in the context of highways and transportation, we talked to CIHT Technical Champion Emily See to discuss projects she was involved with that brought data scientists to the public sector. 

In both of the projects we discussed, data scientists were used to make connections between the data collected by the public sector and provide solutions that helped organisations to make informed decisions and work more efficiently. In both cases, this resulted in better use of resources and cost savings – something which is much needed for all public sector bodies in the current financial climate. 

You can discover more about these projects below…


Kent County Council’s Highways Asset Data Management System

As part of the first ADEPT Live Labs scheme, Kent County Council (KCC) and Amey worked together to develop an innovative solution to asset management. 

This collaboration culminated in the production of the HADMS platform (Highways Asset Data Management System) - a data led asset management system used to keep track of compliance and performance.

HADMS was developed to use data to allow KCC to do better understand their assets, through a range of functions such as:

  • Monitoring winter gritting 
  • Keeping track of tree and canopy coverage
  • Understanding risk, collision and crash data on the road network 
  • Monitoring gully conditions
  • Monitoring road and pothole degradation


National Highways’ Digital Lab

Amey worked with National Highways on the development of their internal Decision Support Tools which moved National Highways from reactive ways of working to predictive maintenance, resulting in ~ £30 million in savings. 

Examples included within the suite of Decision Support Tools were:

  • Incident Support Tool – used to simulate different incident management scenarios, enabling enhanced decisions in real-time to ease congestion in a safe and effective manner, that minimises delays and costs to the public.
  • Optimised Working Windows Tool – used to predict traffic features affecting road access, presenting results for decision support so that schemes across the network can be delivered safely with reduced disruption and costs to road users.  


Is this a rare example of siloed working being beneficial? 

When we asked Emily what benefits data scientists brought to these projects, she commented on their ability to see the task in a completely different way to those who are heavily involved in the day-to-day running of highway projects.   

Those working for highway authorities have the specific skill sets that they need to manage the highways. Whether that be the engineering and environmental skills or the local knowledge that comes into play to allow them to do their jobs.

Data science isn’t typically something that those working in highway authorities have been taught.

For data scientists, it’s the opposite.

Data scientists don’t often have highways backgrounds, so they just see the data presented to them. It’s almost like they see zeros and ones. This means they have the great ability to look at data sources without getting distracted by politics and budgets – the realities of life. They come in with a clear headspace and simply see where the correlations are, where links can be drawn and come up with possible solutions.

Obviously, this approach can mean that data scientists come up with a solution that wouldn’t work practically. The data says that’s how it should work, but real life gets in the way.

But then it’s nice to bring the data scientists and the highway authorities together to find the middle ground, so that at the end of the day we can all say, ‘that’s the best solution’.


Could recruiting for data science roles diversify the transport sector? 

Research finds that certain groups (such as women, those from minority ethnic backgrounds and people with disabilities) are underrepresented in the UK data workforce. 

Poor workforce diversity is also a problem the transportation sector faces, particularly when it comes to gender equality. 

Emily wonders if encouraging collaboration between these two sectors could actually bring more diversity to highways and transportation. 

Data science and transportation are two male dominated areas. But when I compare the two, at least in my world, I see more diverse data science teams, especially in terms of ethnicity, gender and age. I once worked in a digital and data team of 100 people, made up of 42 nationalities.

I wonder if by bringing these two opposite sectors together we’ll actually make highways and transportation a more diverse place to work. If we start to utilise digital and data more in local authorities that could encourage new groups of people into the sector that we’ve not seen before.


CIHT Digital Skills Survey 

CIHT have launched a Digital Skills Survey to understand how transport professionals personally rate their digital skills.

How experienced are you at using artificial intelligence tools? Can you confidently find and analyse the data you need to meet project targets? Do you know how to protect your work from cybersecurity threats?

CIHT would like you to answer these questions by completing our Digital Skills Survey

The survey should not take more than 5 minutes to complete. 

Your answers will help us to assess current capabilities and set recommendations. 

Survey Deadline – Friday 22 March 2024

>>> Click here to answer our Digital Skills Survey


Interested in data? Why not attend our upcoming Masterclass – The Power of Data for Social Inclusion on Thursday 21 March from 1pm to 2pm 

In this CIHT Masterclass we will explore the power of data for improving transportation for the most vulnerable members of society, especially when it comes to safety and affordability.

By attending this Masterclass you will learn about:

  • The evolving dynamics of the transportation sector and the increasing role of data in shaping policies, infrastructure, and services.
  • The importance of collecting diverse and representative datasets to ensure that the experiences of all user groups, especially vulnerable populations, are accurately captured.
  • The tools available to transport professionals to gain deeper insights into the specific needs and challenges faced by transport users.
  • How you to collect and analyse data whilst communicating your findings to relevant stakeholders - data alone is powerful, but the ability to communicate insights is equally crucial.

You’ll be hearing from:
Gideon Salutin, Transport Policy Researcher at the Social Market Foundation.
Amy Pidwill, Senior Road Safety Lead for Transport for London.
Raphael Canty, Principal Data Analyst at Transport for London.
Don't miss the opportunity to take part in our live Q&A session where you can ask our guest speakers your questions.

>>> CIHT Members can register for this CIHT Masterclass for FREE by clicking here
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Join other savvy professionals just like you at CIHT.  We are  committed to fulfilling your professional development needs throughout your career

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