TECHNOLOGY aimed at reducing the dangers and costs involved in rescuing motorists stranded on the Holy Island causeway has now been installed on a permanent basis.
Variable message signs have been erected at both ends of the ancient crossing after being successfully trialled for two weeks at Easter.
They will flash warnings and information to drivers about to use the causeway to get onto or off the island – including reminders to check the tide tables for safe crossing times.
Over the years, countless motorists and their passengers have had to abandon vehicles and be rescued after getting trapped by the incoming tide on the roadway.
Rescuers have been called out 11 times already this year to causeway incidents, and in the same period last year there were 20 episodes.
The performance of the new solar-powered Variable Agile Display signs will be closely monitored by Northumberland County Council to see if they have a positive impact on driver behaviour.
The mainland sign is located 150 metres in advance of the island’s tide tables, and is vehicle activated. It is currently displaying a welcome message followed by a request to check the safe crossing times.
The island sign has been put up in the Chare Ends car park and will display the safe crossing times for that particular day.
The remote-controlled signs can display a number of different messages, including information in case of emergencies.
Face-to-face interviews with visitors on the island resulted in positive feedback from the Easter trial.
County councillors were told in April that of 89 people interviewed, 87 said they had noticed the variable message signs and 81 felt it was an effective warning system for drivers.
Yesterday Coun Pat Scott, who chairs a council working group set up to examine ways of reducing the number of motorists getting stranded on the causeway, said she hoped the new, permanent signs would resolve a long-standing problem.
“I’m delighted this has culminated in the inter-active signs from Solar Signs UK being installed. They will now help to deter people from crossing the causeway outside the safe crossing times.
“As well as being dangerous, the high cost of rescuing these people is borne by the emergency services, so let’s hope these signs will make a difference. We welcome any feedback from residents and visitors about the signs, and what they feel should be displayed.”
Other measures implemented over the past 12 months include the removal of redundant signs, updating the island’s tide table displays and modifications to smart phone apps and information on the council’s website.
The Holy Island Causeway working group includes representatives from the county and parish council, the coastguard, RNLI and the Holy Island Partnership, and has had input from residents, businesses and visitors.
It was set up last year and quickly rejected suggestions that barriers could be erected at the ends of the causeway, saying they would be “unreliable and impractical.”
Islanders had earlier collected a 148-name petition opposing the idea.
As well as being dangerous, the high cost of rescues is borne by the emergency services