Motorists are set to benefit from reduced disruption on the motorways as a new vehicle will cut the duration of roadworks and save taxpayers up to £4M a year.
The vehicle, which will aid the replacement of overhead signs, takes its inspiration from the aviation industry with its design based on a vehicle used to load refreshments into aeroplanes using a hydraulic scissor lift.
The new Maintenance Assistance Vehicle will enable road workers to close fewer lanes and has been successfully trialled on the roads, leading to improved journeys for motorists.
Installation and removal of signs has traditionally been done using a flat-bed truck, crane and cherry picker – a process which can take up to 40 minutes. The Maintenance Assistance Vehicle can perform this task in less than 25 minutes by using a small jib crane, which is part of the vehicle.
Another advantage to the new vehicle is a safer working environment for workers as they perform their duties inside the vehicle and also on a sturdy platform while they work outside it.
Once the platform is elevated to the required height, the jib crane carefully attaches to the sign on the gantry and lifts it off. The user then remove the sign, put it onto a trolley on the platform, and wheel it into the main compartment of the vehicle. When installing a new electronic sign, the process is reversed.
The hydraulically powered scissor lift allows the signs to be serviced at heights of up to 8.5 metres and in high winds of up to 47mph.
Safety is dramatically improved by the use of CCTV cameras, which allow the driver to park the vehicle in precisely the right area under the gantry before any maintenance is undertaken. The workers are monitored at the back while they carry out their duties.
While the initial trials were undertaken, the full carriageway was closed to evaluate the performance of the vehicle. Highways England, however, expect that some lanes will be able to remain open while work takes place, thus reducing disruption and maintaining safety.
Highways England is currently investigating the best way for its contractors to buy the machines. Widespread use of the vehicles could see almost £4M a year saved.
The possibility of using the Maintenance Assistance Vehicle in other roles on England’s motorways and A roads is also currently being explored.
Jeremy Bird, head of Health & Safety for Highways England, said: “Safety is our top priority and we believe no one should be harmed when travelling or working on our network.
“Technology has an important role in improving road worker and road user safety and this concept provides an opportunity to not only do this but at the same time reduce disruption on our roads by completing gantry maintenance in less time, and reducing the number of lanes closed to carry out such a task.”