Column by Loretta Redd
The first asphalt paved road in North America was laid in 1870 in Newark, New Jersey, followed by Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC and 5th Avenue in New York City. Although the material has changed somewhat from its original composition, and a variety of additives have been tried, the same pliable yet relatively durable black goo has been covering our nation ever since.
In 1919, a young officer named Dwight Eisenhower, was impressed with the difficulty of road travel as part of the Army’s first cross-country Motor Transport Convoy. While in Germany during WWII, he noted how the Autobahn had served the enemy transport of military hardware and troops, as well as the relative ease of repair compared to reconstructing bombed out rail lines.
By the 1950′s, President Eisenhower was governing a country living with the fear of nuclear attack from the Soviets. The President foresaw the potential need for massive evacuations from populated areas, along with the rapid deployment of our military. By 1956, the Federal Aid Highway Act was enacted, leading to our 42,000 miles of interstate highways, and its millions offshoot roads across every state, city and town.
Today, roughly 3.25 trillion miles are driven annually in the United States. Although that number has been flat for a decade, the condition of our roads and highways has been in constant decline. We still rely on the same smelly, heat attracting, toxic asphalt for most of our roadways, and suffer the erosion of our Public Works budgets as the material cost for this petroleum product rises astronomically.
So why haven’t we invented a better material than asphalt, which has limited durability and is toxic to both the applicators as well as ground water and the environment? Apparently we’ve tried.
In addition to concrete, which is durable but more difficult to apply correctly and to spot repair, bright minds have created a variety of new products. Landlock is a paving material made from natural soils, but it can’t withstand the rapidly increasing heavy transport traffic.
Another product, Ironweave, is used for dust control and paving large transport areas like truck stops. But it’s actually recycled asphalt covered with a penetrant made from pine resin.
There’s a new company called Eco-Pave, now using polymers that are elastic and strong, but the cost is not significantly lower, and the composite is untested over time. Yet another company is creating sandstone roads which are “organically grown” using a common microbe called Bacilus Pasteurii that cements the grains of sand with calcium carbonate.
As I researched alternatives, it appeared we were stuck with rough roads of potholes and seas of slurry seal, until I read about an Idaho company called Solar Roadways, brainchild of Scott Brusaw. If what I’m about to write sounds so incredibly amazing that it can’t possibly be true…well, it’s as true as NASA, supercomputers, iphones and all the other unimaginable inventions of our lives. If nothing else, it sets the ‘roadways’ of our minds off in a different direction.
The product consists of panels made from glass, which can be manufactured to be as strong as steel and have at least the same traction as today’s surfaces. And underneath the top layer there are solar panels that store the sun’s energy. One mile of road could produce enough electricity to power more than 400 homes.
If the antiquated federal highway system of Dwight Eisenhower were replaced with Solar Roadways, it would produce three times the energy need of the United States. Electric vehicles could potentially be recharged while driving through mutual induction techniques. (Think our young genius might be making Edison and Exxon just a little nervous?)
Scott writes that the roads would be build upon a base layer of recycled garbage pellets, relieving landfills and being carbon neutral. Because they store energy, they could be heated to speed the drying after rain, or melt ice and snow, making road salt and snowplows unnecessary, while alleviating millions of dollars in auto damages and personal injury.
The roads also have dynamic lighting, which could display warning signals, or illuminate the pedestrian or bike path. Potentially, they could house fiber optic cables as well, creating a cross country web of communication capacity. The sections would be built to last 22 years, according to the website, “exactly the time they would take to produce enough electricity to pay for themselves, so in practice they’d cost nothing.”
Solar Roadways may not be the answer to our fossil-fueled nightmare of a highway and roadway system in need of constant repair, but if it points us in a new direction of earth-saving, tax lowering, budget slimming roadways, even the old “I Like Ike” crowd might jump on this new highway! Would someone in Santa Barbara, with our residents and government dedicated to reducing our landfill, improving our environment and saving the planet want to make a little investment in the future?