Paving the Way For Greener Roads

Durham, NH (February 24, 2008)- “A lot of the infrastructure in this country needs to be re-built,” says Kevin Gardner, University of New Hampshire associate professor of civil engineering and director of the Environmental Research Group. “We have a real opportunity to re-build the infrastructure the right way with sustainable materials and socially sensitive designs that protect air, water, land, and human resources.” Last June, Gardner established the Recycled Materials Resource Management Center, RRMC, at the university, with the goal of creating a green roads program that develops criteria for what makes a roadway green.

Gardner says green standards will give road builders the guidelines they need to effectively reduce the environmental impacts – such as carbon footprint, wetlands disturbance, and stormwater runoff generation – and improve the quality of life in communities where infrastructure reconstruction is taking place.
The center is a collaboration between University of New Hampshire environmental and social impact researchers and University Wisconsin-Madison geotechnical, or soil behavior, faculty.
It is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and pooled state highway funds, as well as grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for specific research projects, and works with a board of advisors from the EPA, the Federal Highway Administration and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials, as well as other stakeholders.
Similar to the green buildings program established by the U.S. Green Building Council, which triggered a boom in green building construction, Gardner says a green roads program will give the green light to sweeping reforms in the way we build roads. Many factors must be taken into consideration. Today’s urban sprawl requires road builders to confront a range of sensitive issues involving air, water, land, building materials, energy use, biodiversity, and social capital – an index of social productivity and quality of life.
“The cost of building a road is not reflected fully in the price of materials,” Gardner says. “The total cost of mining virgin materials, for instance, involves not only the cost of materials and labor, but also the environmental cost at the mining site, the environmental costs – such as air pollution and its associated health care costs – of transporting these materials to the building site, and the environmental costs of building the equipment to mine and transport material and build the roads.”
To account for these hidden costs, the RMRC created a computer model that Gardner’s students use to capture the full environmental, social and material costs of road-building. The model was recently road-tested in the Pittsburgh region to help identify the influence that materials recycling can have on regional air quality, hazardous waste generation and greenhouse gas emissions. Research and development of better ways to rebuild roads is only half the process. The other half is education and outreach to developers, road-builders, and engineering students.
In addition to publishing and publicizing the results of their research and green roads standards, the RMRC is now offering a sustainable engineering class at the university and expects to have fellowship and doctoral programs by 2010.
“The first green roads will probably start with small housing developments and municipalities because developers and local developers have already seen the benefits of green building construction,” says Gardner, “but as the benefits and cost-savings begin to be realized on a bigger scale, we believe the RMRC green roads program will pave the way for rapid adaptation at all levels of road-building.”
Related Resources:
Recycled Materials Resource Center
Environmental News Service