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MoDOT to test feasibility of solar roads

MoDOT to test feasibility of solar roads

June 23rd, 2016 by Bob Watson in Missouri News

By the end of the year, Missouri's Transportation department expects to have a solar sidewalk installed at the westbound I-44 rest area at Conway, between Lebanon and Marshfield in northern Webster County.

MoDOT officials hope the hexagonal pavers will provide enough electricity to meet many of the rest area's power needs.

They also want to see how well the pavers could be used in roads as well as sidewalks.

"Solar roadways can hopefully create new revenue streams," said Tom Blair, assistant district engineer in MoDOT's St. Louis area district and head of the "Road to Tomorrow" long-range planning effort.

Blair said MoDOT is working with Solar Roadways, a northern Idaho-based company "developing solar panels that you can drive on."

He told commissioners two weeks ago: "If their version of the future is realistic, roadways can begin paying for themselves."

A story on curbed.com about the project reported Solar Roadways founders, inventors Scott and Julie Brusaw, claim replacing all of America's roads and parking lots with their solar pavers would generate more than three times the country's electricity consumption in 2009.

The company already has passed two tests with the federal highway officials. Blair told the News Tribune MoDOT's pilot project at Conway will be a continuing part of the federal testing.

"It's hard to predict what this will lead to," Blair said Wednesday. "We're a few years away from a final product."

On its website, solarroadways.com, the company described its product as containing "LED lights to create lines and signage without paint heating elements to prevent snow and ice accumulation (and) microprocessors, which makes them intelligent, (allowing) the panels to communicate with each other, a central control station and vehicles."

The electronics are encased in glass-covered, hexagonal sections weighing about 70 pounds each.

Blair described it as "bullet-proof" glass. The company said the specifically formulated tempered glass can support the weight of semi-trucks and has a tractioned surface equivalent to asphalt.

MoDOT officials want to test Solar Roadways' claims, Blair said, because "we're Missourians and taxpayers" who want to see if the reality matches the promotional promises.

The solar pavers project is one of many ideas the department is discussing as it plans for future transportation needs.

In a Kansas City presentation, Blair noted developing technology will change much about the way we handle transportation issues.

"Technology already has changed how we think about different things in our lives," he acknowledged, "and it is going to disrupt everything that every one of us transportation leaders have experienced to date in our life.

"It's happening fast, and it's going to be disruptive."

Blair said no state transportation department is fully prepared for those changes or is "actually seeking revenue from these disruptive opportunities."

If leaders don't resolve some of the issues and changes technology is going to cause, Blair said: "We will soon have self-driving, 'smart' vehicles on our dumb and underfunded roadways."

The curbed.com story said the Brusaws raised more than $2.2 million in crowdfunding in 2014 to bring their technology to market, and MoDOT "is set to launch their own crowdfunding campaign to support their energy experiment."

Blair acknowledged many people have encouraged the department to use crowdfunding as a source for experiments and tests on the transportation system of the future.

He told the News Tribune taking people's donations is a minor part of the department's efforts.

"We are not preventing any roads or bridges from being built or maintained because of this pilot project," Blair said, adding a successful test could lead to implementing savings that could help pay for future needs.

On the web: 

www.modot.org/road2tomorrow