Motorway ‘canopy’ explored to prevent spread of emissions

Highways England is investigating the feasibility for ‘canopies’ to be built to reduce the spread of air pollution emissions from motorways.

The measure is outlined in the agency’s Air Quality Strategy, published today (2 August), in which it sets out its future approach and ongoing projects aimed at improving air quality across the country’s road network.

A stretch of road along the M62 motorway near Simister has trialled a wooden screen designed to prevent the spread of air pollution

Investigation of the potential for a ‘tunnel-like structure’ which would be “designed to prevent vehicle emissions reaching our neighbours” has stemmed from initial work to trial the use of wooden barriers along a stretch of road on the M62 motorway in the north of England.

Highways England initially trialled the air quality barriers on the M62 near Simister, Greater Manchester in 2015, with a 4 metre-high structure running along either side of a 100 metre long stretch of the road. This was then increased to 6 metres in height in 2016. The scheme cost an initial £2.5 million.

A second trial, involving a barrier coated in a mineral polymer material, which has the ability to absorb nitrogen dioxide, is also ongoing.

According to Highways England, the barriers, which have been trialled in other European countries work by “dispersing emissions and can act as an effective safeguard to communities near busy roads.”

In its report today, Highways England suggested that the results of the trials will be used to investigate “if barriers can help contribute to improving air quality for our neighbours. The results from the monitoring of such trials will help us understand if this has been success with the potential to implement barriers on our network.”


It added that it is also investigating if it can “reduce the costs to construct a canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions reaching our neighbours, to make this a viable solution.”

A spokesman for the agency told that it has appointed specialists to look into the viability of using canopies on major roads, but added that the effectiveness of such structures to prevent the spread of air pollution is not yet fully understood.

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 £100 million to test new ideas including less-polluting fuels and road barriers which can absorb harmful emissions.”


Elsewhere in the strategy, Highways England says that it will work with the operators of motorway service stations to ensure that there is a ‘comprehensive’ network of charging points for electric vehicles around the country. The agency has set a target to ensure that 95% of roads will have a charging point available every 20 miles.

It added: “As ULEV [Ultra-low emission vehicles] costs reduce we expect significant numbers of people will decide to buy them and we are working to better understand the significant changes to infrastructure and technology required to support mass market adoption.”

Other future actions outlined in the strategy include work to assess whether better information can be provided for road users to inform their decisions when planning and making journeys.

The organisation has also committed to examining other methods to dynamically manage traffic, in particular when air quality is poor, as well as exploring the use of low emission vehicles in areas with high air pollution.

Efforts to tackle emissions from the UK’s transport network will be among the issues tackled at the National Air Quality Conference in London on 23 November. To secure your place, click here.


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