An introduction to sustainability in road construction

Roads are one of the most essential features in a community. They connect people to their destinations and allow for trade between different areas. They also provide access to emergency services, such as police and fire departments. Urban mobility is crucial.

However, the construction of roads can have negative impacts on the environment including air pollution, noise pollution, and water pollution. Roads also contribute to urban sprawl because they encourage people to live farther away from where they work or go to school.

To reduce the negative impacts on the environment while still supplying all the benefits that roads provide, urban planners should focus efforts on how to make roads more sustainable.

How to make a sustainable road

A sustainable road is a road that is built to reduce the environmental impact of transportation. It usually involves using materials such as asphalt and concrete, which are made from natural materials like fly ash, limestone, and shale.

However, as urban populations continue to grow, there is an increasing demand for these natural resources in the construction of roads. As road use increases, the need to repair damaged roads also increases, putting further pressure on depleting resources.

The road to the sustainability of our roads lies in developing innovative ways to incorporate sustainable materials and practices into how we build our roads.

The Present State of Sustainable Road Design

In the United States, the number of miles of paved roads is close to 5.6 million. With so many miles of asphalt, it’s hard to think about paving over more land for a parking lot or road. However, there are ways that we can design sustainable roads that don’t involve paving over any more land and still have a positive impact on the environment.

For example, one way to make a road more sustainable is by using green building materials like permeable concrete. Such materials require less maintenance than traditional asphalt and create cleaner air and water in the surrounding environment. Another strategy is to use recycled materials, such as plastics and rubber tires.

However, when considering how to make roads more sustainable, we must also consider the safety of people using them and the sidewalks. The goals should be to:

  • Maximize a road’s lifetime

  • Create a safer and less-congested road network

  • Reduce the environmental impact of road construction and road use

  • Make it easier for people to choose non-polluting forms of transport, such as bicycles

Advanced concrete systems are designed to reduce the amount of water and energy needed for production, as well as decrease pollution. They also offer benefits such as being more durable and having a longer lifespan. When employing advanced concrete systems:

  • The cement is replaced with a mixture of magnesium oxide and titanium dioxide, which reduces the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the cement-making process.

  • It is also possible to make self-healing concrete using calcium hydroxide. This material can repair cracks and damage caused by frost or water infiltration.

  • The strength and durability of these new concretes can be increased by adding fibers like steel or zinc oxide nanowires.

Another advancement is transparent concrete systems. These can be used to create buildings with large windows or walls that allow light to penetrate through them yet are still strong enough to support heavy loads. This material can also be used for sidewalks and other pedestrian surfaces, providing safety from traffic accidents while reducing heat from the ground on hot days. This type of concrete can be produced in any color and offers better insulation and noise-reduction properties.

How to make roads sustainable using sustainable practices

In addition to the types of materials used in road construction, we should also aim to use renewable energy sources when constructing our roads and to power roadside devices like traffic lights, signs, and signals.

Other sustainable practices that we can employ include:

  • Landscaping to remove runoff water

  • Sourcing materials locally

  • Recycling of on-site waste

  • Designing highways to reduce congestion and therefore reduce vehicle emissions

STEED: Sustainable Transportation Engineering and Environmental Design

A framework for continuous improvement in sustainable road construction, STEED evaluates construction at every stage to measure the attainment of a project’s goals. Where there is a shortfall between the goal and outcome, the project stage is analyzed to identify what improvements can be made. The objective of STEED is to identify and promote sustainable practices that can be implemented with a high degree of efficiency, thus maximizing sustainability.

Future Concepts for Sustainable Roads ─ What’s Next?

In the future, we will see more sustainable technologies in the construction industry. For example, with the development of concrete systems, we can see that there are already some concepts for sustainable roads. Newer concepts that may become standard practice in how to make a sustainable road include:

  • Piezoelectric energy roads, in which energy is created by the vibration of the vehicles musing the road

  • Interactive lighting, only switching on when a vehicle is present

  • Glow-in-the-dark road markings

  • Roads and sidewalks lit by solar energy

Takeaways for the Future of Sustainable Roads

Sustainable roads are more than just a good idea, they are a necessity. Roads need to be designed in a way that will consider the needs of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as drivers. The design of roads should also take into account environmental factors such as air quality and noise pollution, and the future of motorized transport.

It is important for the government, as well as individuals, to make sure that they are supporting sustainable practices and not just focusing on the present.

At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, and play – including how they are conceived, designed and created. To leverage our experience in sustainable design and construction, contact ACB Consulting.

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