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Agency to turn off lights

The Highways Agency looks at cutting back on motorway lighting in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions.

Transport campaigners this week criticised Highways Agency plans to cut CO2 emissions by switching off motorway lighting late at night. They said the initiative would divert attention from the pressing need to cut traffic pollution.

Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT) executive director Stephen Joseph said the Highways Agency’s pilot programme of switching off motorway lighting after midnight failed to address the need to cut pollution caused by road transport. “I think there are rather bigger fish to fry in terms of reducing carbon emissions,” said Joseph. “With road traffic being the principle form of CO2 emissions, there has got to be other, better ways of [cutting roads’ carbon footprint].”

Under the Agency’s pilot programme, announced last Friday, motorway lighting at two sites in the south west will be switched off between midnight and 5am. One of the trials will be on the M4 between junctions 21 and 22 near Bristol from 26 March. The other will be between junctions 29 and 30 of the M5 near Exeter from 16 April. “We are looking for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the motorway network,” said Highways Agency chief highway engineer Ginny Clarke. “We expect up to 40% savings in carbon emissions and energy use for each section of motorway where we do this and local communities will benefit from reduced light pollution.”

Extinguishing the lights on the two short sections of the M4 and M5 will save 110t of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to the emissions of 44 cars each doing about 16,100km a year. The Agency has reassessed the benefits of motorway lighting and now believes they are exaggerated.

Research 20 years ago calculated that lighting cut crashes by 30%. It is now thought that the accident rate is only 10% lower on lit roads. The Agency estimates that on the 2km section of the M5 there is likely to be one additional crash involving an injury in the next 25 years. On the 5km section of the M4, the risk equates to one extra crash causing injury in 33 years.

Motorists groups cautiously welcomed the proposals. RAC Foundation director Stephen Glaister said if the lighting was making little difference to safety then turning lights off could help the environment and cut costs. “We are not in favour of wasting money on something that doesn’t do any good. The Agency is better off spending it on areas that make a difference,” said Glaister.

The Agency said if successful the trial will be rolled out to other sections of road which have low traffic flows and good safety records at night.  

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