The vehicle, purchased by consulting engineer Mott MacDonald for study purposes, is being promoted by Highways England to its motorway maintenance contractors to improve road worker safety and reduce disruption on motorways.
Highways England said it was “examining the best way for its contractors to purchase the machines”, which could save up to £4m a year, studies suggest.
The maintenance assistance vehicle (MAV) is basically a truck-mounted scissor lift that elevates a box kitted out for replacing gantry signs.
Traditionally, signs are taken down and installed using a flat-bed truck, crane and boom lift, taking up to 40 minutes. However, according to Highways England the MAV can do this in around 20 to 25 minutes by using a small jib crane which is part of the vehicle.
Mott MacDonald says it is even quicker, at just 18 minutes, meaning a 55% reduction in swap out times.
Once the platform is raised to a sufficient height, the jib crane 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 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.
Jeremy Bird, head of Health & Safety for Highways England, said: “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.”
The hydraulic 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. CCTV cameras enable the driver to park the vehicle in exactly the correct place below the gantry when setting up, 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. Maintenance contractors were invited to witness the trials. Highways England believes there is scope to explore leaving some lanes open while work takes place – further reducing disruption but ensuring safety.
The advent of 'smart' or managed motorways has meant a growth in overhead gantries with dot matrix boards, known as advanced motorway indicators, which display information on traffic conditions or temporary speed restrictions.
Mott MacDonald said: “Highways England evidence suggested that their advanced motorway indicators (AMIs) would require regular maintenance or swap outs to ensure that these schemes operated effectively. However, accessing gantry-mounted technology is time consuming, resource intensive and disrupting to the road user. ‘Non-accessible’ gantries in particular present challenges in terms of maintenance as there is no easy access for routine maintenance. Any maintenance has to be carried out under a full or partial motorway closure at increased direct costs and disruption.
“Accessing gantry-mounted technology is time consuming, resource intensive and disrupting to the road user. ‘Non-accessible’ gantries in particular present challenges in terms of maintenance as there is no easy access for routine maintenance. Any maintenance has to be carried out under a full or partial motorway closure at increased direct costs and disruption.
“Mott MacDonald recognised the potential benefits of using an aircraft catering style vehicle could offer and worked with Highways England to further develop the MAV concept. “The innovative MAV solution met the two key challenges of reducing the time to repair AMIs and improving the safety for the maintenance engineers. The process of swapping AMIs currently requires staff to work at heights and in close proximity to live traffic. The MAV reduces the associated traffic management requirements and in turn the number of live lane crossings in order to deploy and recover signs and cones, thus contributing to Highways England’s Aiming for Zero safety goal.”
The vehicle was supplied by Norwich-based Emtek Services, which specialises in ground support equipment for airports. It will be on display next month at the ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) European Congress in Glasgow, 6th-9th June 2016.