environmental engineering

Giving roads a green grade

Greenroads_post

The Greenroads system evaluates a road’s environmental and social impact. It assigns points for such things as using local or recycled materials, managing runoff and providing corridors for wildlife. Below, Steve Muench and Jeralee Anderson discuss the development of the rating system. “Roads are a big chunk of the construction industry that has an opportunity to participate more fully in sustainability practices. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there,” says Muench. (Courtesy: University of Washington)

U. WASHINGTON (US)—A new rating system does for road construction what the Energy Star system does for appliances—provides a sustainability performance metric for new and reconstructed or rehabilitated projects.

Greenroads, developed by researchers at the University of Washington and global engineering firm CH2M Hill, outlines minimum requirements to qualify as a green roadway, including a noise mitigation plan, storm-water management plan, and waste management plan.

It also allows up to 118 points for voluntary actions such as minimizing light pollution, using recycled materials, incorporating quiet pavement and accommodating non-motorized transportation.

The system includes environmental, economic and social impacts.

“The LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] system (used for buildings) has been really successful and has achieved a lot,” says lead author Steve Muench, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

“Roads are a big chunk of the construction industry that has an opportunity to participate more fully in sustainability practices. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

Greenroads’ aims are threefold, Muench says: to recognize companies already using sustainable methods; to provide a catalog of ideas for greener practices; and to offer an incentive for agencies and companies to build more environmentally friendly roads.

The system can be used either for new road projects or for upgrades on existing roads.

“This helps our industry become more sustainable and shows the public that we can deliver sustainable roadways,” says Tim Bevan, west region technology manager at CH2M Hill.

“To some, it has not been perceived to be that important, but more and more we’re finding the public is concerned about the environmental impacts of roadways.”

A number of government agencies have already expressed interest in the project, including the Oregon Department of Transportation and the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Highways.

“We’ve had a lot of positive response,” Muench says. “It’s quickly becoming something that needs to be more than a research project.”

Greenroads originated in 2007 when Martina Söderlund, a graduate student from Sweden, came to UW through the Valle Scholarship and Scandinavian Exchange Program.

“She was interested in sustainability and I was interested in roads, so we put our heads together and came up with this,” explains Muench, who was Söderlund’s adviser for her master’s thesis.

Now that the thesis has evolved into a complete document, the team is hoping to get feedback on the system’s ease of use, choice of credits and the point value assigned to each credit.

“This first version is just a starting point. We’d like to know what industry thinks of the system and get their help in developing it further,” Muench says.

University of Washington news: http://uwnews.org/uwnhome.asp

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