Austroads has published advice to help road agencies achieve adequate infrastructure readiness ahead of future uptake of automated vehicles (AVs).

The advice outlines which infrastructure types should be prioritised for investment, as well as the timing and scale for that investment.

The advice has been developed against a backdrop of significant uncertainty around the future of AVs. These uncertainties include the timing when high-level AVs will be widely available and the level of reliance of future AVs on physical infrastructure.

A four-phase approach has been undertaken to inform the development of the advice with four reports produced. The first phase, documented in Part B report, developed an AVs uptake forecast followed by Phase 2 (Part C), which identified potential investment options, and Phase 3 (Part D) where each option has been analysed through rapid cost-benefit analysis. 

The final phase reported in Part A has assessed the priority of each option by scoring its economic and strategic merits. For high-priority options, a magnitude of investment has also been estimated.

The uptake forecast provided reasonable and plausible estimates of the timeline of technology availability and AV fleet evolution patterns of different usage and automation levels across various Australasian geographical spans. 

The estimates were underpinned by existing literature and consultations with industry experts, including US’s Federal Highway Administration, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the European Commission and the European Road Assessment Programme.

The possible scenarios covered the uptake rates for different transport tasks. 

Vibeke Matthews, Austroads’ Acting Program Manager Future Vehicles and Technology, said, “We considered a range of vehicle types that can be equipped with sensors or connectivity features that enable autonomy. 

“These include passenger vehicles, transit and people movers such as buses and shuttle services, light commercial vehicles used for the first/last-mile delivery of goods and long-haul heavy freight vehicles.”

The infrastructure assessment identified potential investment options by the types and timing of infrastructure changes that would need to take place to support the operation of AVs projected in the uptake forecast.

The economic analysis assessed the economic feasibility of each option to ensure their consistency with the value-for-money principles for public investments by road agencies in Australia and New Zealand. 

The economic analysis found that human driven vehicles and human road users receive significant benefits from some of the potential infrastructure investments. 

Understanding the significance of an investment specifically to address barriers to the adoption of AVs was addressed through a strategic merit assessment to complement the economic analysis.

The final phase of the project has developed recommendations for road agencies focusing on what should be actioned to support infrastructures.

“Having accounted for the various uncertainties of future AVs, we have found the greatest return can be achieved by investments that will support current lower capability AVs, offer some advantages for human drivers and be strategically relevant to future higher-level AVs,” Mr Matthews said.

The advice for Austroads put an emphasis on identifying the infrastructure standard and specifications required for guiding the investment of road agencies.

Read the reports here.

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