Build­ing a sus­tain­able ‘High­way of the Future’

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - By Jenni Ber­gal

Just past the Alabama border, in a bit of ru­ral Ge­or­gia filled with man­u­fac­tur­ing plants and dis­tri­bu­tion ware­houses, there’s an 18-mile stretch of In­ter­state 85 where new tech­nolo­gies are be­ing tested for what could be a green high­way of the future.

The long-term goal is to build the world’s first sus­tain­able road, a high­way that could cre­ate its own clean, re­new­able en­ergy and gen­er­ate in­come by sell­ing power to util­ity com­pa­nies, while pro­duc­ing no stormwa­ter runoff or other pol­lu­tion and elim­i­nat­ing traf­fic deaths.

The project, called The Ray, is an un­usual col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween state agen­cies, pri­vate com­pa­nies, and a fam­ily foun­da­tion that is pay­ing for it. For now, much of the ac­tion is cen­tered around the West Point vis­i­tors cen­ter at exit 2, where there’s the first driv­able so­lar road sur­face avail­able to the pub­lic in North Amer­ica and, out back, a drive-thru au­to­mated tire safety sta­tion.

“There are pilots and ex­per­i­ments go­ing on all over the U.S., but ev­ery­thing is at­om­ized, it’s just pieces,” said Robert Puentes, pres­i­dent of the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Eno Cen­ter for Trans­porta­tion, a na­tional think tank. “In Ge­or­gia, it’s all in one pack­age, and there’s noth­ing else like what’s go­ing on down there.”

Some states, in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia, are us­ing road sen­sors to mon­i­tor weather or im­prove traf­fic flow. Trans­porta­tion de­part­ments in more than a dozen states, from Ore­gon to North Carolina, are us­ing re­new­able en­ergy tech­nolo­gies on high­way rights of way.

So­lar pan­els at Michi­gan rest ar­eas and along Mas­sachusetts high­ways are gen­er­at­ing en­ergy and saving the states money. Like The Ray, some states also are ex­per­i­ment­ing with em­bed­ding tech­nol­ogy in the road.

In Colorado, a Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment pi­lot pro­gram will test tech­nol­ogy that would shift stored en­ergy from the road to elec­tric trucks driv­ing on it so they could charge their bat­ter­ies as they drive at full speed. The Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion is plan­ning to test tech­nol­ogy that em­beds pho­to­voltaic cells in the pave­ment to gen­er­ate power. It will be in­stalled at exit and en­trance ramps of a free­way rest area north of Los An­ge­les by mid-2020.

Cal­i­for­nia also is ex­per­i­ment­ing with ki­netic en­ergy. In April, the Cal­i­for­nia En­ergy Com­mis­sion awarded more than $2 mil­lion in grants to test tech­nol­ogy that uses piezo­elec­tric sen­sors, crys­tals that gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity when sub­ject to pressure or vi­bra­tions, as when ve­hi­cles drive over them. Wires in the road would con­nect to a trans­former that col­lects the elec­tric­ity, which could be added to the grid or used to power road­side lights and signs. The more cars that travel over the sen­sors, the more elec­tric­ity would be gen­er­ated.

Some ex­perts are skeptical about put­ting wiring in the pave­ment, say­ing it could cause main­te­nance prob­lems.

But Mike Gravely, a se­nior elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer on the com­mis­sion, said he doesn’t be­lieve it will be a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem and that he thinks the pi­lot projects will be tech­ni­cally successful.

“The big ques­tion we’re try­ing to an­swer is, Will it cre­ate elec­tric­ity com­pa­ra­ble to the price of so­lar or wind?” Gravely said. “If it can, it may be one of our re­new­able so­lu­tions for the future. The po­ten­tial is huge.” Dirty High­ways The fed­eral high­way sys­tem was cre­ated in 1956 to help move peo­ple and goods from Point A to Point B. Lit­tle has changed from those early days, other than lanes be­ing added and signs up­dated, ex­cept that high­ways have got­ten dirt­ier as more emis­sions from cars and trucks have pol­luted the air, and more stormwa­ter runoff has tainted rivers and streams.

The goal of The Ray is to rein­vent the high­way so it can re­store ecosys­tems, gen­er­ate new ones, and pro­vide the en­ergy that moves peo­ple and goods. It was named af­ter the late Ray C. Anderson, a lo­cal in­dus­tri­al­ist who was founder of In­ter­face, the world’s largest car­pet tile man­u­fac­turer. He grew con­cerned about his in­dus­try’s im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment and chal­lenged his com­pany to elim­i­nate any neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact by 2020. So it be­gan us­ing largely re­cy­cled or re­new­able ma­te­ri­als, re­duced its use of pe­tro­leum and cut pol­lu­tion.

Anderson’s daugh­ters were pleased when the Ge­or­gia Leg­is­la­ture in 2014 named the stretch of I-85 af­ter their fa­ther, who died in 2011. But they found it ironic that his name was on “a dirty road that pol­luted the en­vi­ron­ment,” said his daugh­ter Har­riet Lang­ford. So the daugh­ters and the fam­ily foun­da­tion named af­ter him started a project aimed at hon­or­ing Anderson’s en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy.

At first the goal was beau­ti­fi­ca­tion, said Lang­ford, a trustee of the foun­da­tion and the pres­i­dent of The Ray, the non­profit it cre­ated. But then the foun­da­tion and In­ter­face asked Ge­or­gia Tech to do a study of the memo­rial high­way, later branded The Ray as well, that could serve as a blue­print on how to make it a na­tional model of sus­tain­abil­ity and in­no­va­tion.

“No one had looked at a high­way holis­ti­cally,” Lang­ford said. “We need to fig­ure out how to make it into a restora­tive high­way.”

The Ray also part­nered with the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion, which agreed to work with the staff and of­fer the high­way right of way and vis­i­tors cen­ter, where traf­fic is much lighter, as test­ing sites.

So far, the de­part­ment has spent less than $10,000 on projects at The Ray, other than some staff time, said John Hib­bard, the agency’s op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor.

“This is a re­ally neat project that en­cour­ages us to do things we might not have tried oth­er­wise,” Hib­bard said. “DOTs can be pretty stodgy or­ga­ni­za­tions.” Fu­tur­is­tic Tech­nol­ogy One of the most eye­catch­ing tech­nolo­gies at The Ray is a 20-foot-high bright red steel “so­lar tree” in front of the vis­i­tors cen­ter. It has 12 large pho­to­voltaic pan­els at­tached and was in­stalled by Kia Mo­tors Man­u­fac­tur­ing Ge­or­gia, a part­ner in the project that op­er­ates a huge man­u­fac­tur­ing plant just up the road. The tree of­fers a free charge to elec­tric ve­hi­cles in about 25 min­utes and feeds power into the grid when it’s not be­ing used.

In the mid­dle of the park­ing lot is the Wattway, a driv­able so­lar pave­ment de­vel­oped by a French com­pany that is be­ing tested out­side of France for the first time. The test­ing strip is 52 feet long and made of thin, skid-re­sis­tant so­lar pan­els with glass overlay. It gen­er­ates clean en­ergy from the sun when not ob­scured by cars, and feeds into the grid, help­ing to power the vis­i­tors cen­ter.

Al­lie Kelly, The Ray’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, con­cedes the Wattway tech­nol­ogy, which uses French-made com­po­nents, is ex­pen­sive, al­though she would not dis­close the cost. If the project moves out of the pi­lot stage, she said, The Ray could use Amer­i­can or Chi­nese so­lar pan­els, which cost less.

Behind the vis­i­tors cen­ter is the na­tion’s first pub­lic WheelRight tire safety sta­tion, which looks like a Mc­Don­ald’s driv­ethru. Cars drive slowly over the black-and-yel­low striped pave­ment, where sen­sors take mea­sure­ments. Driv­ers then stop at a touch screen kiosk that spits out a printed sheet or sends a text mes­sage within 20 sec­onds show­ing tire pressure and tread depth.

The Ray is leas­ing the Bri­tish-made de­vice for $39,000 a year, with help from Kia. Nearly 1,200 driv­ers have used it since it was in­stalled in De­cem­ber, said Anna Cullen, The Ray’s spokes­woman.

Un­der­in­flated and over­in­flated tires can lead to skid­ding and blowouts, in­creas­ing the chance of crashes, in­juries and deaths. Ev­ery year, there are about 11,000 tire-re­lated crashes and nearly 200 fa­tal­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The Ray also is fo­cused on restor­ing the en­vi­ron­ment along the high­way. It has in­vested $250,000 in land­scap­ing the me­dian, planted wild­flower mead­ows, and joined Kia em­ploy­ees, the non­profit Ge­or­gia Con­ser­vancy and the Chat­ta­hoochee Na­ture Cen­ter in cre­at­ing a 7,500-square-foot pol­li­na­tor gar­den at the vis­i­tors cen­ter. The state trans­porta­tion agency helped with the projects.

At exit 14, a planned 5-acre, 3,000-panel so­lar farm will gen­er­ate en­ergy for the grid and nearby busi­nesses. The Ray, the trans­porta­tion de­part­ment, the Ge­or­gia Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion and Ge­or­gia Power are work­ing on the project, and ratepayers will foot the bill.

At another Ray project, on the me­di­ans near exit 6, the trans­porta­tion de­part­ment has planted 8 acres of na­tive wild­flow­ers and grasses, cre­at­ing “bioswales,” drainage ditches that fil­ter road pol­lu­tion and im­prove wa­ter qual­ity.

The project prob­a­bly won’t save tax dol­lars be­cause con­trac­tors still need to mow along the side of the road, but the $8,000 the state paid for seed­ing and in­stal­la­tion could yield sub­stan­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, said Chris DeGrace, land­scape ar­chi­tect for the trans­porta­tion agency. Vi­sion for the Future The Ray is plan­ning to test other fu­tur­is­tic ideas.

One is tech­nol­ogy that it patented that would use so­lar road studs with sen­sors to col­lect data from the sur­face, such as whether ice is form­ing or a deer is cross­ing ahead. That in­for­ma­tion would be sent to driv­ers through the cloud or via flash­ing col­ored lights on the road. Other ideas in­clude sound bar­ri­ers made of so­lar pan­els and a wind tur­bine that could turn traf­fic flow into en­ergy.

Kelly wouldn’t dis­close The Ray’s budget and said she doesn’t know how much the foun­da­tion will end up spend­ing on the open-ended project. IRS records show that the foun­da­tion spent $764,550 on the project in 2015.

Eno’s Puentes said he has no doubt The Ray’s im­pact will be sig­nif­i­cant. “Once they fig­ure out what works, it will have a rip­ple ef­fect through­out the coun­try’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem.”

John Robin­son of Mo­bile, Ala., parks his car on a so­lar road sur­face in front of a “so­lar tree” at the West Point, Ge­or­gia, vis­i­tors cen­ter on In­ter­state 85. New tech­nolo­gies for green, sus­tain­able high­ways are be­ing tested near the Ge­or­gia-Alabama border. © The Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.