Image: Highways England, via Flickr
Highways England is investigating the viability of developing a new tunnel-like structure designed to cut vehicle emissions and improve air quality.
The idea is outlined in the government agency’s new Air Quality Strategy, published yesterday (2 August), in which Highways England says it will ‘explore new and innovative approaches to improve air quality’.
According to a news report on the Guardian website, Highways England officials are studying a Dutch scheme in which cantilevered canopies are constructed over the most polluted sections of roads to prevent local residents breathing in noxious car fumes.
The RAC has questioned whether this is the right approach to deal with the problem, suggesting instead that the focus should be on increasing the take up of ultra-low emission vehicles and creating better traffic flow.
Highways England says it has historically been at the forefront of air quality research and investigation – pointing to existing trials of two different types of barriers.
The first trial features wood panels between four and six metres high fitted to the M62 near junction 18 in Manchester. A second trial, which is ongoing, features a three metre high fence coated in a mineral polymer material capable of absorbing nitrogen dioxide.
A Highways England spokesman told the Guardian: “The results from the monitoring of this trial will help us understand if this has been a success with the potential to implement it on the rest of our network.”
The spokesman added: “The best solution to accommodating the extra traffic on our roads, without negatively impacting on air quality, is cleaner low-emission vehicles. In the meantime we are investing £100m to test new ideas including less-polluting fuels and road barriers which can absorb harmful emissions.
‘‘We have identified that a cantilever barrier or canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions, might be a possible solution, though the air quality benefits of this are still to be fully understood. We are now working with the Dutch Roads Authority to measure air quality around an existing cantilever barrier on their network.”
Nick Lyes, RAC spokesman, said: “We question whether constructing tunnel-like canopies, even if they are made from a material that can clean the air, is the right way to deal with the problem.
“All this will do is concentrate potentially toxic air over the road which will have an impact on those inside their vehicles who breathe in the trapped pollution.
“The solution should be about reducing levels of pollution by accelerating the transition to ultra-low and zero emission vehicles and encouraging better traffic flow through variable speed limits – something Highways England has started doing on smart motorways.”