By Monica Medina and Miro Korenha
The first solar roadway in the U.S. debuted on an 18-mile stretch of I-85 in southwestern Georgia. It's called the Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway, and the asphalt is a living laboratory now known as The Ray -- it offers a vision of how highways could look and function in the future. A small section of the roadway leading to the Visitor's Center is paved with solar panels and serves as a testing ground for solar roadway technology. It also houses the state’s first solar-powered PV4EV (photovoltaic for electric vehicle) charging station, and that opens up the length of I-85 between the Alabama border and Atlanta to electric vehicles. In addition, this fall thousands of solar panels will line the roadside of the interstate, and Georgia will become the third state in the nation to pilot a so-called “right of way” solar farm. Highways generate 5 million tons of CO2 emissions nationally each year and there were 35,000 fatalities on them in 2015 alone.
The Ray's goal for all highways s simple: zero deaths, zero carbon, and zero waste. Grasses and plants on the side of The Ray provide pollinator habitat (as we reported this week bees currently lack habitat), carbon sinks, and soil stabilization. They have also installed a roll-over WheelRight Tire Pressure Monitoring System at the Visitor's Center that sends drivers a text message with critical information about their tire pressure & tread depth, which improves both gas mileage and safety on the road. And they are developing solar-powered, lighted and smart "dots" on the highway to warn drivers of hazards and collect important data for the Georgia Department of Transportation to maintain the road.
Why This Matters: The Trump Administration and Congress continue to promise ambitious infrastructure plans, and investments in roads and transportation will certainly be included. Hopefully, road projects in the future will incorporate these new technologies to make our highways safer and more sustainable. Looking ahead, Allie Kelly, the Executive Director of The Ray says, “We’re at a tipping point in transportation.” Kelly believes that “[i]n five to ten years, we won’t remember a time when we invested a dime in infrastructure spending for a road that only did one thing.”
Photo: Ray C. Anderson Foundation