A shift to smart highways is one of the 20 carbon reduction options that Drawdown lists as Coming Attractions—strategies that weren’t ready for prime time when the book was published, but looked like promising approaches through mid-century.
Highways have never been the picture of sustainability. The vehicles that use them traditionally produce pollution, and their construction often disrupts ecosystems. The concept of a “smart highway” aims to change all that.
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The Ray, an experimental highway named for the late Interface Inc. founder and chair Ray C. Anderson, “aims to morph this stretch of road into a positive social and environmental force, the world’s first sustainable highway,” Drawdown reports. The design begins with supportive electric vehicle infrastructure, including a visitors’ centre with solar photovoltaic charging stations, and eventually “special lanes for EVs that charge them as they pass through”. The design also incorporates a one-megawatt solar farm.
Similar climate-friendly approaches to highway design have been taking off in the Netherlands, China, and Japan, Drawdown states. But safety has to be a prime consideration in any change to highway design, making established rules and system a barrier to rapid change. That means the potential to expand on the concept of smart highways will depend on a mix institutional and technological change, Drawdown concludes.