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Thursday , 16 May 2024

Roads & Highways Tech Leap

It is a fact that the network of roads across India has been undergoing a dramatic change not seen in previous years. Without doubt, the roads and highways sector – thanks to the nationwide bank of projects chalked out for implementation – is today the most happening sector with news of engineering achievements, breakthrough materials and new feats by road laying construction equipment always on the front burner.

Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari has been underscoring the aggressive focus of his ministry by claiming that together with the proactive policies of the Modi government, the use of innovative construction materials & machinery to speed up work on the roads and highways and adoption of new methodologies & the technology route, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Indian roads would begin to match the US roads by 2024.

Despite Covid 19 induced restrictions, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and the NHAI managed to achieve several records during 2021-2022 – awarding projects for a total length of 6306 km, the highest in the last three years. The total capital cost of the projects was Rs 2.47 lakh crore. The Centre has set for itself an overall goal to increase the National Highway Network to 2 lakh km by 2025. 18,000 km of roads are planned to be constructed in 2022-2023, the record target to be achieved with a speed of 50 km per day. “Ambitious targets to fulfil the ambitions of a New India,” Gadkari noted in a tweet.

Recent elevated budget allocation towards accelerated development of roads sector projects – this includes resources for the development of 2500 km of access control highways, 9000 km of economic corridors, 2000 km of coastal and land port roads and 2000 km of strategic highways and border roads – is a clear indication of there being no letup in the government’s development agenda.

Much of the budgetary allocations are being sought to be utilized to build projects by deploying modern disruptive technologies, mechanization, and adoption of global best practices, usage of LNG and biofuels, and innovation in using waste materials as raw materials for projects, materials to reduce the cost of construction and to bring down pollution.

New road designs that integrate sensors, microprocessor chips and high end electronics within conventional technologies of road construction are being increasingly conceived. Such developments are not only expected to make the roads smarter and responsive to their surroundings and other vehicles but also allow them to harness energies from solar radiation & vehicular movement and offer information on a real time basis. Mechanisms like FASTag are expected to encourage greater commercialization of highways thus enabling the NHAI to raise more resources. With the roads and highways programme set for a big leap in the coming months and years to come, construction firms are expected to up their budgets for technology and R&D.

The construction industry is also excited about the opportunities available for the stakeholders to contribute to the nation’s infrastructure march. According to Vivek Vanmeeganathan, Managing Director, Caterpillar India, there is increasing reliance on new construction methodologies and materials. And that will only continue to scale up going forward.

Dimitrov Krishnan, Managing Director, Volvo CE India, says, “While road infrastructure is already making considerable progress, as OEMs we are always ready with solutions to meet the surging requirements of the market. Construction equipment embedded with technologies which will speed up work, enhance the quality and age of roads built will be key requirements.”


With Speed & Quality at the heart of project implementation, the metamorphosis is already beginning to happen in stretches across the planned highways.

Witness the following:

Over 720 workers of the NHAI, Rajpath Infracon Pvt Ltd and Jagdish Kadam recently worked round the clock to lay a 75 km highway of bituminous concrete between Amravati and Akola within 5 days thus making it to the Guiness Book of Records. Construction on the project began at 7.27 am on June 3, 2022 and ended at 5 pm on June 7, 2022. Previously the record for the longest continuously built bitumen road was set in Doha, Qatar in February 2019 – it involved constructing a 25.275 km in ten days.

NHAI contractor, Patel Infrastructure Limited, created a world record by laying the highest quantity of Pavement Quality Concrete (PQC) concrete on a four-lane highway of 2,580 meters length in 24 hours! Starting at 8 am on February 1, 2021 the work was completed at the same time the following day. Incidentally the acclaim is for part of the greenfield Delhi-Vadodara-Mumbai 8-lane Expressway project, developed by the National Highway Authority of India, under the Bharatmala Pariyojana (Phase-1) scheme. The work was carried out by the world’s largest fully automatic ultra-modern concrete paver machine, with the highest quantity of concrete laid in 24 hours – 14,613 cubic meter – being achieved in record time. The Company made the task possible with a well-managed group of multi-level people – more than 1250 onsite personnel – working in a synchronised method, implementing micro-level planning by deploying skilled manpower and machineries especially the 18.75 metre largest width of slip-on form of paver machine in the world.

On June 16, Gujarat’s Diamond City Surat reported the opening of a six lane highway made from steel slag, the first of its kind in the country. Inaugurated by Steel Minister Ram Chandra Prasad Singh the road made from 100 per cent steel-processed slag is being touted as a real example of converting ‘waste into wealth’ and improving the sustainability of steel plants. The road has been jointly made with the Central Road Research Institute and ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India. Around 1 lakh tonnes of processed steel slag was used for this road construction. It is reported that the use of steel slag in road construction will also address the shortage of natural aggregates in the country.

Slag is a by-product which comes out during manufacturing of steel through three processes, namely basic oxygen furnace (BOF) route, electric arc furnace (EAF) and induction furnace (IF). Slag was earlier used only for land filling. It is reported the approximate construction cost per square meter of a processed steel slag road is Rs. 1,150 as against Rs 1,300 for a bitumen road and Rs 2,700 for a cement or a concrete one. Using it to construct a road is a breakthrough for the industry. Civic officials are of the view that utilisation of processed steel slag in road construction will pave the way for sustainable use of waste and will reduce reliance on perishable natural aggregates, while also bringing down emissions and carbon footprint in road construction activity.

In January, the National Highways Authority of India announced that the 63 km Lucknow – Kanpur Expressway would be the first to use 3D Automated Machine Guidance technology for highway construction, which almost doubles construction speed and enables officials and contractors to get live updates on their phones or computer. The use of 3D AMG systems on this project, and the learnings derived from it, is expected to lead to its widespread application in the highways sector. It is reported the 3D AMG uses data from sources such as 3D engineered models to guide construction equipment during earthwork and paving. It links sophisticated design software with construction equipment with a very high level of precision while improving the speed and accuracy of the construction process. The Rs. 4200 crore expressway is expected to reduce travel time between the two cities to barely 40 minutes by December 2023.

Further, in order to reduce carbon footprint and increase the life cycle of the bitumen road the Lucknow Development Authority in collaboration with Central Road Research Institute has introduced stone matrix asphalt technology (SMA) with plastic waste and fiber cellulose to build a road which can last up to two decades. SMA has been prevalent in western countries but going further CRRI scientists crafted it for Indian conditions and the technology is a game-changer in reducing carbon footprint, the durability of road and immensely cost-effective.

Elsewhere in Bangalore, plastic waste was found to be an asset from a road construction challenge perspective. A local firm has created over 2000 km of roads in the Garden City using 10,000 tons of plastic retrieved from garbage, adding up to two years to the life of the constructed path. It is reported the company operates a plastic recycling plant in the city which can process up to 30 metric tons of plastic per day.

In Kolkata, meanwhile, the State PWD has rolled out the state-of-the-art “zero-emission” mastic asphalt technology for relaying Kidderpore Road. The automatic Gussasphalt machines and mixing plants, imported from Germany, are being used to spread layers on the road surface without causing environmental emission. It is reported the hot mix prepared in the imported machines spreads and solidifies in less than an hour. Traffic can move just an hour after the mastic layers are laid, thus minimising need for prolonged traffic blocks, and causing the least inconvenience to commuters. The method works five times faster than existing methods, it is reported. Mechanized mastic asphalt is considered to be the very good technological option in the country these days. The alternative to mastic asphalt is either bitumen or concrete. While bitumen wears off fast during the monsoons in Kolkata, concrete is expensive with underground utilities requiring to be shifted and roads needing to be dug up.


So while the NHAI’s juggernaut continues on its formidable mission to add quality and length to the country’s roads and highway infrastructure, the new process of environmental reform have included the introduction of the electric vehicle ecosystem. With New Delhi committed to reduce emissions in the wake of the Paris Agreement of 2015 there has been a discernible movement in favour of electric cars – various international and domestic players have announced their plans for a rollout — but the numbers at present are obviously not enough. Seeing the business opportunities ahead global players like Tata Power and Hyundai Motor Co have recently entered into a strategic partnership to install charging infrastructure.

Meanwhile, last August, the State run BHEL, set up the Chandigarh Highway as the first e-vehicle friendly highway in the country, with a network of Solar based Electric Vehicle Charging Stations (SEVCs) under the FAME-1 scheme. The electric vehicle charging station at Karna Lake resort is located at the midpoint of the Delhi Chandigarh Highway, and is equipped to cater to all types of E cars plying currently in the country. The SEVC stations are equipped with individual grid connected rooftop solar plants which supply energy to the charging stations. The plans are to establish similar EV chargers at regular intervals of 25-30 km on the highways to make intercity travel both convenient and safe.


Artificial Intelligence powered solutions intended to make the lives of millions of user commuters safe and secure are increasingly in the process of being embedded on the emerging roadscape. New Delhi announced in May that it would be adopting AI powered solutions to make roads in the country a safer place to drive. The AI approach uses the predictive power of AI to identify risks on the road, and a collision alert system to communicate timely alerts to drivers. Such technology, it is learnt, could dramatically reduce the risk of road accidents which led to over one lakh being killed in 2020 – in its initial bid the AI approach would use a first of its kind dataset of 10,000 images. The project, ‘Intelligent Solutions for Road Safety through Technology and Engineering’ (iRASTE), will identify potential accident-causing scenarios while driving a vehicle and alert drivers about the same with the help of the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS). It will also identify ‘grey spots’, by data analysis and mobility analysis by continuously monitoring dynamic risks on the entire road network. The system also constantly monitors roads and designs engineering fixes to correct existing road black spots for preventive maintenance and improved road infrastructure.

Very clearly with more and more roads being laid out, the nation’s tech leap is assured.

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