Transurban’s Michael Lehfeldt explains his company’s adoption of a sustainable road management strategy, and outlines initiatives where sustainability – and user safety – were front and centre during planning and execution.
Sometimes, it’s not about the destination, but how you get there. That’s certainly the perspective of Transurban, the Australian-owned road operator responsible for managing a plethora of motorways across Australia, the United States and Canada, which has adopted a mindset of sustainability across areas of operations and maintenance.
On day one of Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering conference, Michael Lehfeldt, Transurban’s Head of Assets Engineering in Queensland, broke down the company’s strategic approach to sustainability and various on-the-ground initiatives undertaken across its road network in pursuit of this goal.
In Queensland alone, Transurban’s portfolio of road assets encompasses five tunnels, 150 bridges, 469 HVAC units and 8,400 in-tunnel lights across 82 kms of pavement, which requires an extensive engineering effort. Across an international network of motorways, that effort is multiplied.
“[We manage] some of the most important and complex high-class assets within our industry,” Lehfeldt said. “There are truly iconic assets in our portfolio across the Transurban enterprise that were all built at different times to different standards and at various stages of their asset lifecycle.”
He spoke of the enterprise-wide strategic framework where sustainability is “woven into our DNA”, and the company’s adherence to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) via its strategic pillars of people, planet, place and partnerships.
In the past 18 months, Transurban has conducted studies to understand its organisational impact on climate change, including a detailed climate risk and adaptation assessment across two of its assets, the Gateway Motorway and the Legacy Way tunnel.
“The experience of preparing the climate risk and adaptation management plans has flagged the importance of understanding the resilience of adjacent road networks and feeders,” Lehfeldt said. “This is a clear area of focus for us over the coming years.”
Lehfeldt described the bottom-up, on-the-ground approaches Transurban takes to weaving principles of sustainability safety into operations.
In an effort to help facilitate the reduction of customer vehicle emissions, Transurban has recently completed an eco-driving trial in two stages. Stage one involved 50 Transurban employees and stage two involved 500 Linkt customers.
All participant vehicles were fitted with a GOFAR telematics device that plugged into the vehicle’s OBD2 port. A visual device on the dashboard displayed a green light when drivers were driving efficiently and a red light when drivers were braking or accelerating aggressively, or speeding.
“Stage two participants watched short, educational eco-driving videos to inform their driving, then we captured data to identify any changes in fuel consumption and emissions” as a result of this training, Lehfeldt explained.
“The study shows that eco-driving reduces fuel consumption and the associated emissions, making a more sustainable and economical way to drive.”
HVAC and ventilation optimisation
The 2021-2022 financial year saw Transurban’s engineers undertake a tunnel ventilation optimisation project.
“Tunnel ventilation systems require a large amount of power and typically amount for around 70 per cent of our total energy consumption,” Lehfeldt said. “Utilising 3D modelling and simulations, our advanced data and analytics program team were able to optimise and fine-tune ventilation systems for several Queensland tunnels.”
The project worked to ensure that fans are “only on when they need to be, while still ensuring that strict air quality standards continue to be met”.
He also explained how, when new air conditioning units were installed in one of the Clem7 tunnel substations, Transurban engineers identified the possibility of optimising unit cooling while minimising power consumption and equipment wear.
Road safety testing
Transurban’s approach to sustainability at an engineering level isn’t at the expense of user safety.
Having set itself a target of zero deaths or life-changing injuries on its roads, Transurban has trialled and implemented motorcycle incident response vehicles, which has, according to the observations of both Transburan and the Queensland Police Service, created a “positive traffic calming effect … when presented by our fleet vehicles”.
“Transurban has adopted a safe system approach, and this is based on the ethical position that no one should be killed or receive life-changing injuries … using the transport system,” Lehfeldt stressed.
Automated vehicle trials have been running since 2017 across all assets.
“The findings from Queensland trials were consistent with the results from our previous trials undertaken in other markets,” Lehfeldt said. “Yet there were some findings in the Brisbane trials that had not been seen in previous trials, such as those involving emergency bays and motorway-to-motorway interchanges.”
Electronic signs, for example, particularly LEDs, were difficult for automated vehicles to identify. Another key takeaway was lighting changes.
“Lane-keeping sometimes was disengaged when emerging from a tunnel portal back into daylight, and also at exit ramps or emergency bays,” Lehfeldt said.
“As automated vehicles become more commonplace, industry and government will need to build community understanding of the safe use of driver assistance features.”