Motorways may be covered by 'tunnels' in bid to cut pollution

Large "tunnels" covering stretches of motorway to protect locals from dangerous levels of pollution are being considered by Highways England.

The agency said in its latest air quality strategy that it is exploring the possibility of building physical canopies around main roads to soak up car fumes.

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In its report, Highways England says it is "investigating if we can reduce the costs to construct a canopy, which is a tunnel-like structure designed to prevent vehicle emissions reaching our neighbours".

After trialling a similar physical barrier to pollution in 2015, which initially stood at four metres high and stretched 100 metres down the M62, the agency said it is now running tests on a material that can clean the air.

If this trial proves successful, the agency said it would consider implementing such barriers across its network of motorways and trunk roads.

Air pollution is linked to around 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, and transport also accounts for around a quarter of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

The agency has been given £100 million by the Government to improve air quality through to 2021, and the strategy released sets out how they plan to spend that money.

It includes a target to put a charging point for electric cars every 20 miles on 95% of the road network.

The report also said that diesel HGVs are the biggest contributors to roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide, which causes respiratory diseases.

It said: "Emissions from diesel vehicles are a significant contributor to the poor air quality at the roadside."

In its clean air plan, unveiled last month after an order from the courts, the Government set out plans to fund measures to cut pollution with a tax on new diesel vehicles, with an aim to end the sale of all conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

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The world's most dangerous roads
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The world's most dangerous roads

North Yungas Road, or Death Road as it's also known, is legendary for its extreme danger. In 1995 it was named the "world's most dangerous road" by the Inter-American Development Bank. The 61km road leads from La Paz to Coroico in Bolivia. Up to 300 travellers are estimated to be killed on the road each year and cross markings along it show where vehicles have fallen. What makes it so dangerous? It's a single-lane road with no guard rails and cliffs up of 600ft. During rainy season, rain and fog severely hampers visibility and the road quickly becomes a muddy track. In the summer, there are rockfalls and dust limiting visibility. If you dare take your eyes off of the road, the rainforest scenery is breathtaking and and thousands of thrill-seekers, particularly mountain bikers, ride it each year.

In Alaska, the James Dalton Highway is a 414-mile gravel road that certainly wasn't built for normal cars. Drivers braving the road share it with huge lorries that kick up clouds of dust or mud and reduce visibility. Then there are potholes taking a heavy toll on cars and virtually nowhere to stop for petrol. We wouldn't recommend driving the Dalton unless you have a 4x4, extra fuel, food, spare tires and blankets to survive the cold.

It takes someone brave to drive or walk along this terrifying 'cliff corridor' road in China's Henan Province. The 1,250m long Guoliang Tunnel was chiselled and hammered out of the mountain 40 years ago by 14 villagers from the nearby Guoliang village. It is five metres high and four metres wide and placed 110 meters up the cliff face. Along the tunnel there are 35 window-sized holes, from which rock was dumped during the construction process and now show the beautiful views from the road.

The A537 between Macclesfield and Buxton was named the most dangerous road in Britain, based on the number of serious collisions. Punishing bends, steep drops from the highway and sheer rock face for most of its length make the A537 a scary drive. Most crashes take place during the weekends in the summer - a popular time for tourists who are most probably checking out the stunning Peak District scenery than keeping their eyes fixed on the road in front of them.

This mountain road in western Norway offers drivers a dizzying view of sheer mountainsides, deep fjords, waterfalls and fertile valleys. The Trollstigen Mountain Road has a steep incline of nine per cent and consists of 11 hairpin bends. Encircling the road are lofty mountains with majestic names such as Kongen (the King), Dronningen (the Queen) and Bispen (the Bishop). At the 700-metre plateau is a car park and a number of viewing platforms overlooking the bends and the Stigfossen waterfall.

The M56 Lena Highway, or the Amur-Yakutsk Highway, in Russia runs parallel to the incomplete Amur Yakutsk Mainline railway and although it is a federal highway, it's actually just a dirt road. When it is frozen in the winter it makes an excellent surface, but in the summer, any significant rain makes the road turn to mud, often swallowing small vehicles whole! On the Lena Highway, traffic jams last for weeks and become a mess of vehicles stuck in the middle of nowhere.

The second highest paved road in Romania was built as a military route and consists of 90km of twists and turns running north to south across the Southern Carpathians. Due to snowfall, the Transfagarasan is open just a few months of the year, and even in June snow can block the roads. The scenery is spectacular and includes the twisted monastery at Curtea de Arges, the Dracula Castle ruins at Poienari and the huge Vidraru Dam.

Italy's Stelvio Pass in the Ortler Alps is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and may not be the most dangerous road in the world, but is said to be one of the most thrilling. At 9,045 feet this famed road features 48 hairpin turns on the northern side and 12 on the southern side, taking you through stunning Alpine scenery and many kilometres of fast and sweeping roads. If you own a bike, this road was built for you.

Connecting China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, the Karakoram Highway is the highest paved international road in the world with an altitude of 15,395ft. Known informally as the KKH, it is often referred to as the ninth wonder of the world due to its high elevation and the difficult condition in which it was constructed. Drivers on the highway are troubled with landslides, floods and mud. More than 1,000 workers were killed during the building of the highway.

This road in New Zealand is as narrow as they come and was cut in the middle of a sheer cliff face 140 years ago, making it unbelievably scary. Constructed to give miners access to a gold-rich canyon, today Skippers Canyon Road's motorists must apply for a permit before attempting to tackle it. Most car insurance companies won't cover you in the event of an accident and the soft rock crumbles easily under car tires, getting slippery when wet too.

If having to be cautious of other motorists wasn't enough, on Gibraltar's Winston Churchill Avenue you have to watch out for planes too. The road cuts through the airport, used by passenger and military planes alike. It's the only road connecting Gibraltar to Spain and is by far, Gibraltar's busiest road so there's no escaping the drive among jumbo jets if you want to enter or exit the territory by road. Every time an aircraft lands, the road is closed for a few minutes and railroad-style crossing gates hold back the cars.

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