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U.S. sustainable roadbuilding program takes cues from LEED

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by Korky Koroluk last update:Aug 18, 2010

There’s a roadbuilding project under way in central Oregon that looks like so many others in recent years — creating a four-lane separated highway with a grassy median and wildlife underpasses from a four-lane road without separation.
U.S. sustainable roadbuilding program takes cues from LEED

FOCUS | Roadbuilding

There’s a roadbuilding project under way in central Oregon that looks like so many others in recent years — creating a four-lane separated highway with a grassy median and wildlife underpasses from a four-lane road without separation.

The idea is to eliminate crossover accidents and wildlife crashes. But, perhaps as important, the job is a pilot project for a road rating system that is somewhat similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system for rating buildings.

It’s one of four pilots under way by the Oregon department of transportation using a standard known as Greenroads.

Greenroads is being developed by the University of Washington and engineering giant CH2M Hill, and it’s very much a work in progress even though the first version of it has already been published.

Like LEED, Greenroads evaluates a project using a number of criteria and awards points for each. And since road projects can be almost as widely varied as building projects, efforts have been made to address as wide a range as possible.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Transportation is piloting a program called Green Pave, based on similar U.S. programs, but it applies strictly to the paved surface of road projects.

Steve Muensch, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the university, said in an interview that for an urban project “you might spend a lot of time and effort building a surface that lasts decades with minimum maintenance or reduced tire noise.”

“In a rural environment, you might be more focused on treating stormwater and including wildlife crossings.”

Instead of developing a draft first version for review before it was used, Muensch and his colleagues decided to make their first version as complete as possible, issuing it as Greenroads v.1.0, ready for use as well as for comment.

That happened in mid-May, when the document was posted on the group’s website.

At the same time, about two dozen pilot projects large and small were set up to determine how well that first version of Greenroads works. The pilots thus became, in essence, a part of the review process.

The review process will be open until November, Muensch said, although that date could be extended if there are a lot of comments.

The comments will be evaluated, and a second version of Greenroads written, Muensch hopes, by sometime late in 2011.

Greenroads is only one of a dozen or so attempts being made to develop a standard for roads. Some are little more than lists of best practices.

Others are various forms of rating systems.

But Greenroads, since it has something of the look and feel of LEED, appears to be a frontrunner simply because so many people in the engineering and construction sectors are already familiar with LEED.

Meunsch said, however, that he believes that there will ultimately be several rating systems for roads.

“It will evolve as all market spaces tend to evolve,” he said, “and a number of them will have some sort of market space.”

In the meantime, the focus of Greenroads this year involves the pilot projects, “which are basically projects that agreed to take a look at the Greenroads performance metric and apply it to their project, and help us learn about how Greenroads works with projects.”

“In the end, this thing has to be useable by project engineers and contractors and designers, because it doesn’t matter how wonderful we think it is if nobody’s going to use it,” he said.

Four of the pilots are with the Oregon transportation department.

The lane-separation project is a $16-million job on 3.8 miles of highway. The department decided to compare it against Greenroads after the project’s final design had been done, but the design firm had already done important environmental tasks, such as surveys of wildlife and plant life. Black wire-mesh fences will guide deer and elk toward the underpasses being constructed.

Small animals will also be able to use underpasses that are little more than dry culverts.

Trees that have had to be cut down are being reused to stabilize slopes. Reclaimed water from a nearby sewage plant is being used to control dust.

Finally, when the job is finished in 2012, the department “will go back and grade it and see how it would have done if we’d had no idea of Greenroads.”

In the meantime, the development team is planning to include bridges in Greanroads v.2.0.

In the first version, bridges are treated much as roads are treated in LEED — “an amorphous lump of material,” Muensch said.

That means credits can be earned for recycled materials, or local materials and the like.

last update:Aug 18, 2010

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