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homeMonday 21st August 2017

Highways England lays out air quality strategy

Stuart Spear09/08/2017 - 15:01

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Tunnels are being considered at pollution hot spots
Tunnels are being considered at pollution hot spots

Highways England is exploring a number of technological fixes to improve air quality including the use of satellite monitoring and of pollution absorbing tunnels to cut NOx emission levels.

Formed in 2015 Highways England is a government company tasked with operating England’s motorways and major A roads. In a report published last week it sets out proposals to improve air quality on and around the road network through to 2021.

With a budget of £100m the agency has been replacing the diffusion tubes historically used to monitor air quality with 50 continuous monitoring stations across the network. The upgrade will be completed by 2018.

As part of this process the agency is exploring the latest developments in monitoring technology including the use of satellites to measure air quality along its network.

Agency officials have also been studying a Dutch scheme involving the use of tunnels covered in pollution absorbing material that could be used along the most polluting parts of the road network. The Dutch Roads Authority is currently assessing the results of a pilot scheme.

Pollution preventing barriers were first erected in 2015 on the M62. They have since been heightened to six metres and covered in a polymer material with the potential to absorb NO2.

The Dutch scheme goes a step further by incorporating cantilevered canopies producing a tunnel.  

The results of the trials will dictate whether the idea is rolled out to other parts of the motorway network.

Other ongoing pilots include exploring incentives to speed up the modernisation of the HGV fleet, optimising vehicles flows and a study on emissions from vehicles using paraffinic fuel that could be an alternative for diesel engines.

‘Through our pilot studies we will work in partnership with local authorities to tackle this problem for our joint benefit,’ states Highways England.

A plan currently being explored with Transport for Greater Manchester involves the use of freight consolidation centres as a way of integrating pollution reduction levels on the motorway network with local road networks     

As sales of electric cars grow Highways England also plans to ensure a charging point is available every 20 miles on 95 per cent of its network. ‘Where possible these will be rapid charging points that can charge a ULEV in less than 30 minutes,’ states the report.

Cutting highway emission is key to reducing national air pollution levels with the current expansion plan set to increase the road network by 1,300 additional lane miles by 2020. The Department for Transport predicts traffic volumes to rise by 55 per cent between 2010 and 2040.

Highway England figures show that 77 per cent of NO2 levels close to motorways come from HGVs, diesel cars and vans on the road network.

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