Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Highway ROW and Climate Change – Another step forward

I have been an advocate for some time of state DOTs exploiting their considerable property holdings on highway right-of-way to address climate change through carbon sequestration (some of my earlier thoughts here).
Now comes a new study from TRB (Transportation Research Board) that takes another (limited) step forward on this topic.  Entitled “Guidebook for Designing and Managing Rights-of-Way for Carbon Sequestration and Biomass Generation,” (available here) the study has, as the title suggests, a very limited focus.  The conclusion is pessimistic as to the chances of DOTs reaping financial rewards with sequestration and biomass projects: “While it is technically feasible to grow a variety of vegetation types along roadsides that could serve either the bioenergy or carbon offset markets, given current market conditions and the operational constraints of the ROW, the practical opportunity to implement such activities is limited.”
But really, is making money what we’re after here?  The report forward makes it clear that the narrow research problem statement was the product of circumstances prevalent several years ago.  I hope that the findings don’t discourage state DOTs from pursuing a more vigorous exploitation of the ROW for sequestration purposes.  And indeed, the report offers a very practical analysis both of opportunities DOTs have on the ROW and the management issues (safety for instance) that they will need to address.  So this report is definitely another step forward.

Carbon sequestration is just one of a number of important uses for the roadside that need further exploration.  Another key use is renewable energy generation.  Both the roadside (and in the future the pavement itself) should be generating power for highway lighting, signage, and electronics.  I envision the resilient, sustainable highway of the future as self-powering.

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