How The Ray is pioneering better highways

Ray C Anderson was a sustainability pioneer and businessman, the visionary CEO of Interface carpets. When he died in 2011, Georgia named a stretch of the I-85 after him: the Ray C Anderson Memorial Highway. His daughter, Harriet Anderson Langford, was informed about the honour and had an idea. If you’re going to name it after him, why not make the stretch of highway reflect his ethos? Could it be turned into a sustainable highway?

The result is The Ray, an 18 mile section of road that serves as a test bed for experimental highway technologies. It aims to demonstrate a ‘regenerative highway ecosystem’ that would eventually have net zero environmental impact and zero accidents.

So far there is a visitor centre with solar charging points. Bioswales alongside the road naturally filter pollutants from run-off. There’s a pollinator garden, and a trial rubber road surface that reduces noise. French engineering firm Colas chose The Ray to trial their Wattway solar road, and fitted a solar-paneled section of carpark that delivers 6MW of clean electricity to the visitor centre. The Land Institute is a partner in an experimental perennial wheatgrass crop growing on the highway shoulder. The wheatgrass has deep roots and sequesters carbon, and it can be harvested for fibre for making paper.

Future plans include solar noise barriers and other forms of roadside solar, with a view to eventually testing EV charging lanes. There are plans for a trial of road inspection drones. In the longer term, the highway corridor should generate more power than it uses, restore the landscape and improve biodiversity, as well as being safer and more attractive.

Obviously cars aren’t a good starting point for sustainable transport, but we’re going to have them for the forseeable future. Most efforts to make motoring greener focus on the vehicles, so it’s interesting to see someone look at the road instead.

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