A new Maintenance Assistance Vehicle (MAV) that can be used to help replace overhead signs on motorways has been trialled by Highways England.
Inspired by the aviation industry, the vehicle is set to reduce the duration of roadworks and could save the taxpayer up to £4 million a year.
The vehicle is based on the design of an aircraft catering vehicle, which loads refreshments into aeroplanes using a hydraulic scissor lift.
Road workers will also be able to shut less lanes using the new vehicles which has been successfully trialled on the roads.
Jeremy Bird, head of health and 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.”
Traditionally, signs are taken down and installed using a flat-bed truck, crane and cherry picker, taking up to 40 minutes. However, the MAV can do this in around 20 to 25 minutes by using a small jib crane which is part of the vehicle.
The device also provides a safer environment for road workers while they work inside the vehicle – and on a sturdy platform while they work outside it.
Highways England is currently examining the best way for its contractors to purchase the machines. It is estimated that if the device was widely adopted it could save up to £4m a year.
Once the platform is raised to a sufficient height, the jib crane carefully attaches to the sign on the gantry and lifts it off. The operatives then detach the sign, place it onto a trolley on the platform, and wheel it into the main compartment of the vehicle. The procedure is reversed when installing a new electronic sign.
The hydraulically powered scissor lift enables the signs, which are often found on smart motorway gantries, to be serviced at heights of up to 8.5 metres and in wind speeds of up to 47mph. Furthermore, its CCTV cameras, which play a critical safety role, enable the driver to park the vehicle in exactly the correct place below the gantry before any maintenance takes place, and monitors the operatives at the back while they work.
During the initial trials a full carriageway closure was implemented to see how the vehicle performed. However, Highways England believes there is scope to explore leaving some lanes open while work takes place – further reducing disruption – while ensuring safety is not compromised.