Air-cleaning motorway ‘tunnels’ may cut pollution

Air-cleaning motorway ‘tunnels’ may cut pollution
Plans to encase stretches of motorway in tunnel-like canopies made from air-cleaning materials are being assessed as a viable answer to the UK’s clean air conundrum.

Highways England says constructing the enclosed zones around the worst-polluting roads would help to soak up polluting fumes before they are exposed to the open air.

The RAC, however, questions the worth of the early-stage proposals – claiming the only true solutions lie in the transition to ultra-low and zero-emissions vehicles.

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Highways England has been given £100 million by the Government to improve air quality over the next five years, and is now in the process of setting out how it plans to spend it.

It explained in its report that it is “investigating if we can reduce the costs to construct a canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions reaching our neighbours”.

It is currently in the process of putting through its paces a material which it hopes has air-cleaning properties. It follows on from similar tests conducted in 2015 in which a four metre high, 100 metre long barrier was placed along a stretch of the M62.

If the new material fits the bill, the agency is keen to start the implementation of such barriers at key points across its national network of trunk roads and motorways.

A headline measure from the government’s clean air strategy was unveiled last week when Michael Gove announced that the UK is to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040.

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Commenting on the prospect of the motorway “tunnels”, RAC roads policy spokesman Nick Lyes questioned whether or not the canopies are the most sustainable way to deal with the issue – even if they are made from a material that can clean the air.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Other plans laid out by Highways England include a target to put a charging point for electric cars every 20 miles on 95% of the road network.

The report also said that diesel HGVs are the biggest contributors to roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide, which causes respiratory diseases.

Copyright Press Association 2017. Motoring News articles do not reflect the RAC's views unless clearly stated.