AGC Looks at Developments in Green Highways and Roads Programs: Day Two of Earth Week

AGC is celebrating Earth Day (officially April 22) all week long by releasing an article a day exploring how the construction industry contributes to building a green future.  You can help us get the word out by linking to these articles via social media during “Earth Week.”  Today’s article (the second in AGC’s five-day series) explores developments in green roads and how they fit within the existing environmental requirements.

Highway and road projects are vital to our communities, and a well-maintained road can reduce pollution (from congestion) and improve the safety of its travelers.  But anyone involved in the process of building a new road or maintaining an existing one knows just how long it takes to gain the necessary approvals.  A part of that approval process is related to environmental protection. 

Existing Environmental Requirements

A roadway can stretch many linear miles through varying terrain and habitats, and the project will likely need to comply with multiple environmental requirements such as stormwater runoff and erosion controls, wetlands mitigation, and endangered species protection.  And since the nature of a road is to connect us to each other and the places we want to go, sometimes avoiding environmentally sensitive areas is not possible.  Additional protections in these areas may be necessary but the value of accessing sites of, for example, historic or natural interest cannot be underestimated.  In the case of a publicly-funded construction project, administrative environmental review processes also come into play, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and its state equivalents.  Therefore, a large portion of the approval process, aside from funding, is devoted to environmental reviews and permitting.

With comprehensive and well-established environmental protection in place – as well as an excellent record of using recycled materials and reusing industrial materials in roadways – where did the drive towards “green” roads originate?  And what is a green road?

Origins of Green Roads

Unlike green buildings, which AGC explored on Day 1 of this series, where the adoption was primarily market-driven with government support, green roads initiatives originated at the federal and state government levels.  The motivation behind these initiatives appears to be two-fold: (1) a means to share best practices and (2) a better way to communicate the environmental protections and benefits of a road with the public and policy makers.  Official environmental assessments can run hundreds to even thousands of pages including multiple studies and do not make the best talking points.

The science and technology behind (or underneath) a roadway is a complicated and evolving field of study, and environmental best practices have emerged through years of research and careful application.  Such practices are being shared through national organizations such as the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, which has a searchable collection of environmental research and best practices information.  Programs such as the Green Highways Partnership, begun by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2005, also originated as a way to foster those types of communications on environmental and sustainability developments. 

It was in part these national discussions that led to FHWA’s development of the INVEST program launched in 2012.  The Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST) “is a practical, web-based collection of best practices,” according to the FHWA.  INVEST is a voluntary self-assessment and programmatic tool that helps transportation agencies identify sustainable attributes and incorporate best practices into their programs and projects.  INVEST provides guidance and parameters for the planning, development and maintenance stages of programs and projects.

Several state programs have also played a role in improving and communicating best practices.  Whether it is Illinois’ Livable and Sustainable Transportation program, New York’s Green and Blue Highways program or the Greenroads assessment from Washington, state programs have helped communicate the protections and benefits of a roadway to the surrounding communities. 

What Is a Green Road?

We will use the Greenroads program as an illustration of the types of sustainability issues that can be addressed.  Greenroads is intended to be used on a specific roadway project (it is not a programmatic tool).  In addition, the Greenroads tool is gaining acceptance outside of its originating state of Washington; therefore, it is possible that road builders in other states will encounter the program.

Greenroads has its development roots at the University of Washington and is currently managed by the Greenroads Foundation, a non-profit that reviews and certifies roadway (and bridge) projects and offers credentialing for Sustainable Transportation Professionals (STP).  The certification program is set up similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for green buildings.  Projects have a list of prerequisites that they must obtain and then a series of optional credits grouped in associated categories.  A project can be certified to one of four levels based on the score they obtain: certified, silver, gold and evergreen.

The Greenroads categories are as follows: project requirements, environment and water, access and equity, construction activities, materials and resources, and pavement technologies.  Greenroads also offers two customizable, voluntary credits.  Below is a selection of prerequisites and credits to provide insight into the types of sustainability issues addressed by the program (not a complete list). 

  • Context Sensitive Solutions
  • Contractor Warranty
  • Ecological Connectivity
  • Equipment Emissions Reduction
  • Environmental Management System (ISO 14001 certification for general contractor)
  • Habitat Restoration
  • Light Pollution
  • Low Impact Development (LID)
  • Noise Mitigation Plan
  • Permeable Pavement
  • Recycled Materials
  • Regional Materials
  • Site Recycling Plan
  • Site Vegetation
  • Stormwater Runoff Controls
  • Warm Mix Asphalt (WMA)
  • Waste Management Plan (construction and demolition)

For a complete listing of prerequisites and credits as well as additional information on the rating system, go to the Greenroads website.

If you have worked on a green highway or road project, we would like to know.  Please consider sharing your story with AGC’s Melinda Tomaino at

AGC’s Earth Week Article Series

Read the article on green buildings for Day One here.

AGC also reports on green or sustainability news through its @AGCEnvironment Twitter account.  AGC’s upcoming 2015 Contractors Environmental Conference on Sept. 2-3, 2015, will also feature sessions on green buildings, roads and other infrastructure, click here for the conference details.  For more information, contact AGC’s Melinda Tomaino at or (703) 837-5415.