The road industry has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has a considerable role to play in the economic recovery and sustainable development of the sector must be pursued to engender this.
This was indicated by speakers during the International Road Federation's (IRF’s) 'Roads to Recovery: A Sustainable Mobility for a Sustainable Future' online conference, held on November 12.
IRF president Bill M Halkias said transport and mobility have become associated with the potential spread of the virus.
The industry has been severely impacted on by the pandemic, travel restrictions and economic repercussions, with less traffic leading to a reduction in revenue.
Halkias said that, as recovery is pursued, this presents an opportunity to rethink mobility and other priorities.
He suggested that stimulus packages and infrastructure investments should be used to create safe, sustainable and efficient multimodal transportation systems, with roads as a fundamental part of that ecosystem.
This must therefore be used to pursue efficient and well maintained roads, with road safety being paramount. Halkias emphasised that it was essential for design and planning to be done with safety at its core, to minimise the cost of human lives.
Moreover, there must be a focus on creating jobs.
Halkias stated that building, upgrading and maintaining road network infrastructure was a key driver for saving and creating jobs, generating income and stimulating economic activity.
Further, there must be the pursuit of innovation. Halkias called for investment in strengthening the overall resilience of road networks; ensuring adequate infrastructure for active modes of transport; and accelerating the green transition to engender a green economy.
Lastly, he said there was a need for investment in human capital.
In terms of the green transition of the road and transport sector, European Investment Bank VP Lilyana Pavlova said transport was one of the largest emitting sectors, responsible for about 23% of the total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
She noted that the bank was investing considerably in climate and environmental action over the next decade, with significant finance to be made available for climate and environmental projects by 2025.
She highlighted that the group had been supporting investment in cutting edge transport technologies, including research and development into greening the automotive sector, electric charging points across Europe, battery cell pilot projects and automated and connected road transport solutions.
Pavlova noted that technology development was the main enabler for the transition, but stressed that costs and constraints associated with technology deployment presented challenges.
Therefore, she emphasised that the bank was there to provide support, from both a financial and technical capacity building perspective.
Pavlova mentioned that roads were among the infrastructure segments most exposed to the repercussions of climate change and, therefore, the group had been investing in strengthening the resilience of the network.
She emphasised that, in fostering green investment, this must be done while also addressing societal needs.
Asian Development Bank transport sector group chief Jamie Leather noted that demand for transport was growing faster than supply.
With demand set to continue growing, there had to be increased focus on the externalities of transport, such as safety, emissions and costs.
Leather emphasised that sustainable transport would be accessible, affordable, environment-friendly and safe.