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Imagine driving to and from work without hitting a single pothole. Well that possible future might be closer than you think. With many focused on ground-breaking car technology it is easy to disregard the highways themselves as having only a supporting role. However, one group is now at the forefront of a new innovation. ‘Superhighways’ boldly take a step into tomorrow with sustainable resources that can help cut infrastructure costs and improve driver safety.

The automated car is coming soon, but the intelligent highway is not getting here soon enough.

Just outside of Lagrange, Georgia, there is an 18-mile long stretch of the I-85 which is paving the way for sustainable roads. This development is a step above a traditional intelligent highway. The organization behind it is called the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, which was founded by Harriet Langford, the daughter of Ray Anderson. Ray founded Interface, the carpet company which pioneered sustainability with the use of square carpet tiles. They later on introduced the use of nylon carpet fiber, which was 100% recyclable. The company became a pioneer in sustainability, and are still pursuing this today.

The Foundation had a goal to support sustainability initiatives in memory of Ray Anderson. They were given a stretch of highway to memorialize Anderson, and to further drive sustainability efforts. With this opportunity, they made it a showcase of eco-friendly highway technology.

This innovative technology is called “the Ray”, and showcases a visitors center at the start of the 18-mile length. While there, visitors can top up their electric vehicles. This electricity is provided by a photovoltaic energy array which also supplies energy for the visitors center.

The Automated Superhighway

I 85 road picture

The highway has skid-resistant solar panels on top of the road. There are also areas where drivers can have their tires checked for tread depth and pressure with the use of sensors. This information is provided in five seconds. The highway likewise uses SmartStuds, which utilize LEDs to communicate data from the sensor’s data network.

At the same time, there’s a vertical wind turbine system which can generate power with as little as 4 mile per hour winds. The roads are also maintained using recycled tires. The old tires are mixed with cement and used to repave the roads. The resulting pavement repels water down and out of the road, instead of letting it rest on top. This has been proven to be 20%-30% more durable than traditional concrete.

There is a lot of talk about the car of the future. The United States was built on cars. The interstate highway system was built to support cars. In some communities, there are no real mass transit systems because cars act as such. The offshoot of this is the need for roads, streets and highways where people can drive their cars safely. The automated car is coming soon, but the intelligent highway is not getting here soon enough.

It has been estimated that it requires $1 trillion to maintain, repair and rebuild big portions of the country’s infrastructure. These include roads and bridges across the United States. To support the nation’s continued growth and interstate traffic, these roads and bridges must be built or repaired. What is missing in all these costs is that the technology for these roads has not changed much in the last 50 to 70 years.

The concept of an intelligent highway has been with us for quite some time. This is a road system which communicates with the vehicles driving over it. The highway also makes use of solar energy, powering intelligent LEDs which signal the driver about road conditions. Various intelligent solar powered LEDs have been shown as concepts before. These include LEDs which change color to indicate whether the driver should slow down. The LED lights have been shown to be very effective during heavy fog or snow, where there is almost zero visibility.

One aim of the project is to prepare for automated cars. From the point of view of the road, automated cars are an inevitability, and it requires the road to catch up in order to keep the passengers and driving conditions safe.