Transport officials are considering cutting speed limits on key sections of the strategic highway network to 60mph to ease congension and comply with European air quality regulations.
Consultation about Highways Agency plans to cut speed limits on the A556 Knutsford to Bowden trunk road, near the M6 is due to end next week.
This week the Agency has also started consulting on whether to impose the same speed limit on the M1 between junctions 28 and 35a. Both proposals are amendments to existing and separate improvement plans.
Consultation documents stress that the roads’ impact on air quality would be significantly reduced by the speed limit cut. The Agency expects the restrictions to be temporary until other measures start to improve air quality.
The Agency is looking more broadly at the impact of air quality limits - particularly with regard to European Union (EU) nitrogen oxide (NO2) pollution. It and has said that a degree of flexibility on the timeframes for delivering the benefits of some schemes would be vital.
NCE reported last November about the potential for the EU limits to impact a number of road schemes after the Agency shelved plans for hard shoulder running on the M60 .
At the time it issued a statement outlining its position on the regulations.
“To date, we have started construction on 12 major schemes since 2010 and a further five are planned to start by April 2015, subject to statutory processes,” the statement said. “This new capacity creates better connections, and supports job creation and economic growth up and down the country.
“But we need to deliver this investment responsibly. Clean air is important for human health and the health of the environment. So, like some other European countries, we improve our strategic road network while still meeting our legal obligations that ensure we achieve good air quality for everyone.
“This means we have to build flexibility into project timetables, and into the specification they are built to and operated at. It could result in a project with no air quality concerns starting earlier, or [mean] that a scheme is operated differently until air quality levels sufficiently improve. This is considered carefully on a scheme-by-scheme basis as part of the environmental assessments we carry out on all projects ahead of any work starting.”
Conditions for removal of the speed limit and a return to the schemes’ full implementation centre on whether pollution levels have reduced.
The Agency expects that factors influencing that outcome will include the take-up of newer, cleaner vehicles in conjunction with European regulations for vehicle engines that are due to come into force in 2014.
Construction of both schemes is set to start in 2014/15.