An innovative new infrastructure project has gone underway in the south of England that promises both to reduce the noise impact of a major British motorway and generate green energy at the same time.
Earlier this year, Highways England joined forces with the M40 Chiltern Environment Group (M40 CEG), Wycombe District Council and South Oxfordshire District Council to run a competition seeking designs for cost-effective solutions to road noise issues along the M40 – specifically, the stretch between Junction 3 and Junction 8 of the London to Solihull route.
It has now shortlisted six designs and awarded a contract worth up to £2 million to WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff, which will work together with the winners to develop their ideas further and – should all go as planned – begin construction in winter 2016.
One of the concepts that has gained support from competition judges is the idea of mounting solar panels on noise barriers, which would offset their installation and operating costs and make the infrastructure essentially pay for itself.
According to project manager Mark Saunders, plans to use of this particular technology are not yet set in stone. “After selecting six innovative ideas from the 18 competition entries we received, we have now awarded the design contract,” he said. “This will help us to decide which types of barriers will best suit the different sites on the M40 and start designing a solution for each of them.”
Nonetheless, Lord Parmoor of the M40 CEG commented: “When first discussed by our committee, the double environmental benefits of reducing noise pollution and generating clean energy made the concept of solar enabled barriers very appealing.”
He went on to call the announcement “an important step” in the process of getting the barriers installed, which will “improve the lives of many thousands of local residents”.