Time running out for smart motorway air quality

Highways England is still looking at different ways it can manage the air quality impact of its smart motorway project on the M1 near Sheffield – two months before the scheme is due to open.

The J32-35a smart motorway runs partly through a built-up corridor between Sheffield and Rotherham, which is an area with an existing air pollution problem. An environmental impact assessment carried out for the project at early design stage revealed European air quality limits would be breached in the area. The project was given the go-ahead with the Highways Agency saying it would look for measures that stop the scheme from worsening existing levels of air pollution.

It is understood that a decision on mitigation measures is yet to be made; making a 60mph speed limit a likely solution, as suggested by national media reports over the weekend. According to the Sunday Times, a report by Mouchel suggests a number of ways of mitigating the air quality impact from increasing traffic volume, including a reduction in traffic speed to smooth traffic flow.

This is not the first time a smart motorway project has fallen foul of air quality limits. The M60/M62 scheme near Manchester was scaled back in 2013 when it was revealed as likely to breach legal air pollution levels. This was also in an urban area. Air quality is understood to have not been such an issue in rural locations of the M1 and other smart motorway projects.

A stament released by Highways England said: "Smart motorways are central to the modernisation of England’s motorways, reducing congestion and improving journey time reliability by smoothing traffic flows. One of our key challenges in delivering the £15bn government investment in infrastructure is tackling the issue presented by air quality and in order to meet environmental targets we are investing in a wider programme of air quality research to help address this."