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What’s a Road For?

The Ray, a 16-mile stretch of I-85 in Georgia, is challenging the idea that roads are just for driving on. It is the country’s first solar-paved road, with 5,400 square feet of solar panels capable of producing 7,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually. The solar panels are placed on top of the asphalt road surface and covered with a layer of protective plastic. Research indicates that the resulting road surface is actually safer than traditional asphalt. The road’s visitor center is equipped with a solar-powered charging station for electric vehicles and a tire safety check system, which directs drivers to drive over a sensor and then texts them information about their tire pressure and tread depth. Planners also want to reduce the harmful impact of water runoff, so they are constructing bioswales—shallow drainage ditches filled with vegetation or compost that slow water movement and capture particulate pollutants during rainstorms. The road will also host the first installation of solar panels in the state-owned and maintained right-of-way. The road has been approved for a pilot project to install one megawatt of solar generation and construction is expected to be finished by December 2019. The Ray is made possible by a unique collaboration between philanthropic, corporate, university, and government partners. The road’s backers intend it to be a living laboratory and will continue to seek out and test new innovations.


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