Rationale and background

The performance of the road and rail infrastructure network in the Randstad strongly affects the distribution of resources and goods, the accessibility and economic development of the region, and the mobility of the citizen. At the same time, public agencies continually allocate large budgets for the maintenance, renovation and reconstruction (MR&R) of the infrastructure network and its components (e.g. pavements, bridges, culverts, signs) to guarantee a performance level of the entire network that contributes to the economic strength and social viability of the region. It seems to be obvious that the cost-effective planning and execution of MR&R activities and projects represent essential tasks of public agencies in contributing to current policy processes such as Urgent Programme Randstad, the Cabinet’s vision of Randstad 2040, the Mobility Policy, and the Adapting Spatial Planning to Climate Change Programme. Put differently, there is a clear need for policy-driven MR&R decisions, but also for addressing MR&R in policy processes.

Typically, MR&R involves long-term, medium-term and short-term decision-making. Long-term decisions or strategic planning address the role of MR&R within public agencies and its contribution to the overall vision and objectives of these organisations on for example the mobility of a region. It focuses on the alignment of corporate policies with the specific MR&R objectives while taking possible future economic, technological, social and environmental developments and effects on the infrastructure into account. Medium-term decisions or tactical planning aim at finding MR&R interventions that optimally use the resources available to public agencies. It mainly deals with the trade-offs between corrective and preventive MR&R based on the deterioration of infrastructure assets. Short-term decisions or operational planning are concerned with the sequence in which MR&R work will be executed. It primarily tries to minimize the disturbance of single MR&R activities and projects on for example the traffic flow in a road network.

In the Randstad, MR&R decisions are taken on an ad hoc basis and are not based on their contribution to the long term policy goals. Public agencies, whether on national, provincial or local level, pay most attention to tactical and operational MR&R decisions. Regular inspections deliver information on the technical conditions of the infrastructure assets which is stored in databases and used to assess the deterioration of the infrastructure. Based on that and the available budget, the optimal moments for MR&R activities are determined for life periods of around 5 years. MR&R activities are then combined in projects in order to restrict their effects on the infrastructure user. However, infrastructure assets typically have live-cycles of up to 80 years. The strategic accountability of current MR&R decisions therefore remains unclear. Decisions are made on the evaluation of the past infrastructure development but neglect the probable impact of economic, social, technological and environmental changes on the future situation of infrastructure assets. As recent research has shown, at many agencies there is still a missing link between the overall strategic policies and the MR&R decision making at the agencies (Randstedelijke Rekenkamer, 2009; Rekenkamer Zeeland, 2009). In sum, public agencies fall short of making strategic MR&R decisions and developing sustainable MR&R policies which cover the complete life-cycle of infrastructure assets and address future challenges in society, economy and environment.

In the Randstad one of the most important future challenges is the potential global warming and its implication for mobility, economy and social-welfare (Urgent Programme Randstad, 2007; Adapting Spatial Planning to Climate Change Programme, 2007). Given the location of the Randstad, climate change is expected to be one of those factors having a great impact on the future condition and vulnerability of infrastructure assets and consequently MR&R decision making (Hove and Noord, 2007). Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns and weather extremes such as flooding and frost can alter functioning and deterioration of assets with considerable consequences for the amount and costs of future MR&R activities and projects. Research in Australia indicates that the annual maintenance and rehabilitation budget for roads will increase by around 30% due to climate changes (Austroads, 2004). Likewise, a study in Canada on the effect of climate change on pavement performance suggests incorporating longer time series of weather and climate in the MR&R planning (Mills et al., 2009). Both studies also show that there are significant regional variations of climate effects. Thus, a deeper understanding of the climatologic peculiarities of the Randstand and their influence on the infrastructure network in the Randstad is of paramount importance to a substantial improvement of the strategic MR&R decision-making and at public agencies. Of particular interest are data on future climates that are downscaled from global climate models to local levels which allow the identification of performance-critical assets within the Randstad infrastructure network. However, while previous research has mainly focused on the climatologic consequences of different transportation modes, very little effort has been devoted to understand the implications of changing climate conditions for MR&R of infrastructure assets. Particularly, the development of downscaled local climate models suitable for the assessment of MR&R strategies and the implementation of sustainable MR&R policy has been insufficiently addressed by research so far.

The implications of climate change for MR&R decision-making at public agencies in the Randstad are twofold. First, current MR&R planning has to be extended to the entire expected life-cycle of infrastructure assets, in order to be able to anticipate possible alterations in frequency, duration and severity of infrastructure performance failures and apply appropriate measures. Such measures may include the advancement of MR&R schedules, the strengthening of the structural design of infrastructure, or the installation of sophisticated monitoring systems. In other words, MR&R decisions have to become more sustainable and strategically oriented by incorporating the policy-relevant issue of climate change. Second, with the strategic orientation of MR&R decisions a clear relationship with the policy processes of the Randstad has to be established. That is, public agencies need to develop MR&R policies that relate the agencies’ planning of MR&R interventions and measures with the general long-term Randstad objectives. However, there is scarce understanding of the incorporation of climate data in MR&R decisions, the required strategic MR&R decisions to respond to probable climate change scenarios, and the interrelatedness of MR&R decision-making and policy processes.

The MR&R of infrastructure in the Randstad is also clearly related and complementary to other issues addressed in the ongoing SAR research programmes. Particularly those programmes investigating the change in travel behaviour and transportation modes (e.g. CESAR, TRISTAM, SRMT) provides valuable insights into mediating causes of infrastructure deterioration and damages. If, for example, the traffic related to specific transportation modes grows the climate-induced defects of the associated infrastructure assets may amplify. These mediating effects will be included in the research programme.

Research Questions and Objectives

This research programme addresses the need for policy-driven MR&R decisions and integration of MR&R decision-making in policy processes at public agencies in the Randstad. With the potential global warming the programme focuses on one of the most challenging issues for policy makers in the Randstad. The main objective of the programme is to improve the strategic MR&R decision-making at public agencies in the Randstad by integrating three interlinked areas of investigation: climate change, infrastructure asset performance, and policy development. These areas are studied in two research projects looking for answers to the following main research questions:

  1. What is the impact of changing local climate conditions on the performance of the infrastructure network in the Randstad?
  2. How can climate data be incorporated in MR&R decision-making so that MR&R decisions become more sustainable and strategically oriented?
  3. What are appropriate MR&R strategies to anticipate and mitigate climate change effects on infrastructure assets in the Randstad?
  4. How can MR&R decision-making related to climate-induced effects on infrastructure be integrated in policy processes at public agencies in the Randstad?

More specifically, the research programme aims at:

  • downscaling climate models to the Randstad region that allow the assessment of climate change effects on the performance of the infrastructure network in the Randstad,
  • determining the effect of local climate conditions and scenarios on the vulnerability and deterioration of infrastructure assets,
  • assessing the criticality of increased performance failures of assets, groups of assets and local parts in the Randstad network due to climate change,
  • revealing the mediating effects of alternative factors such as traffic intensity on climate-induced defects of infrastructure assets,
  • investigating the possibilities for incorporating climate data and models in the MR&R decision-making at public agencies,
  • determining the consequences of different climate scenarios for the development of MR&R policies in the Randstad, and
  • studying the relationship between strategic MR&R decision-making and policy processes at public agencies in the Randstad.

The innovativeness of the research programme lies in delivering new insights into:

  • the climatologic peculiarities of the Randstad region that have a great impact on the performance of infrastructure assets,
  • the vulnerability of the infrastructure network in the Randstad to different local climate change scenarios,
  • the relationship between strategic MR&R decision-making and policy process at public agencies in the Randstad, and
  • the suitability of MR&R strategies to respond to potential climate change effects on the performance of infrastructure assets in the Randstad.

Multidisciplinary and integrative approach

The research programme uses a strong multidisciplinary approach to explore the relationship between climate change and strategic MR&R decision-making in the Randstad. The projects of the programme investigate this relationship from a natural, engineering and policy science perspective. The programme addresses the complex and dynamic character of strategic MR&R decisions in public agencies in the Randstad by integrating the three perspectives to allow the development of sustainable MR&R policies for the Randstad. Furthermore, the programme is integrative in the sense that road and rail infrastructure is included.