At first glance, the phrase “green road” might seem like a contradiction in terms. After all, what else is a road but a conveyance for greenhouse gas emitting vehicles? But with nearly four million miles of public roads in the U.S., there is every reason to consider ways to make roadways sustainable. We have enough impervious roadway (and attendant runoff and pollution issues) in the U.S. to cover the entire state of Ohio, our transportation sector accounts for a third of U.S. energy use and CO2 emissions (PDF), and it takes as much energy to build one mile of one lane road as 50 homes use in a year. Like LEED and Green Globes for buildings, a nonprofit organization called Greenroads™ is taking the (so far) less-traveled sustainability path for roadway projects, whether new, reconstructed or rehabilitated, and trying to change the way roads are designed and built to make them more friendly to the environment.

Projects first must complete 11 requirements to be considered a Greenroad. These are:

  • completion of an environmental review process;
  • performance of life cycle cost analysis for the pavement section and life cycle inventory;
  • development of plans for quality control management, noise mitigation, waste management, and pollution prevention;
  • performance of a feasibility study for low-impact development stormwater management;
  • have a pavement management system and site maintenance plan;
  • and publicize information about the project’s sustainability.

The project then can choose to purse 37 Voluntary Credits that cover environment and water, access and equity, construction activities, materials and resources and pavement technology. Based on points awarded for these voluntary credits, certification is granted at one of four levels — Certified, Silver, Gold, and Evergreen.

The credits system was tested on 120 design and construction projects and now certifications are being awarded. The first to certification was the Meador Kansas Ellis Trail in Bellingham, Washington, which received a Silver certification. The project is located on six blocks of downtown Bellingham and uses  elements in its design such as recycled porcelain aggregates made from more than 400 crushed toilets diverted from landfills, asphalt with 30 percent recycled concrete aggregates, porous pavements to treat runoff naturally, low-energy LED lighting and new pedestrian-bicycle amenities.

Other  projects receiving certification include a sustainable stormwater project for Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington (Silver Certification); SE Pioneer Way Reconstruction, Oak Harbor, Washington (Silver); and South Division Street Promenade, Auburn, Washington (Bronze).

Having just certified its first project last February, it’s hard to say whether Greenroads will achieve the widespread adoption of LEED and other building rating systems, but a journey of a thousand miles has to begin with the first step.