An environmental impact label for safer, greener roads
An innovative evaluation and certification system for road infrastructure developed by EU-funded researchers promises to reduce the environmental and financial costs of building or upgrading road networks, while improving transport safety and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
© pengzphoto #177666742, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
The overall principle of the system, developed by 13 partner organisations in the EU-funded LCE4ROADS project, is similar to the EUs highly successful Ecolabel certification process. This is designed to help consumers identify products and services with a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle. But rather than grading fridges, televisions and heaters, the LCE4ROADS team is grading road infrastructure, from the design and materials used in construction to the implementation of new technologies to increase sustainability performance and road safety.
The work, which has attracted interest from stakeholders in Europe and the US, contributed to the publication of CWA 17089, a pre-standardisation agreement under CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation. The comprehensive list of indicators is a widely accepted reference for assessing roads from a sustainable perspective. This is expected to lead to improved approaches to building and upgrading road infrastructure. It could be the basis for the implementation of a harmonised standardised certification system in Europe.
Adequate means and tools are required to better assess road projects in different stages of their life cycle in order to modernise a critical part of the whole transport network, says Aquilino Alvarez-Castro, a project manager at LCE4ROADS project coordinator Acciona in Spain. The LCE4ROADS system helps to evaluate the performance of a road across a comprehensive range of economic, social and environmental factors, using a list of key performance indicators in each one of these domains that had previously only been addressed as independent issues.
By putting together the different pieces of the puzzle on how to assess the sustainable performance of a road, LCE4ROADS helped to strengthen the holistic understanding of road projects and put this into practice through the development of a software tool leveraging 24 key performance indicators.
Public authorities, local communities and construction contractors can use the tool to assess how different designs, construction processes, materials and technologies would impact the sustainability of a new or renovated road, whilst also evaluating its technical performance and financial costs.
For example, the tool facilitates environmental, societal and cost assessments of different types of construction material, such as asphalt mixtures, recycled aggregates and cement-based products. It takes into account expected usage and local conditions as well as the effects of incorporating technologies such as energy harvesting and green drainage systems.
It also helps to ensure that the most suitable products are employed, making road surfaces safer for users and reducing the frequency of repairs through the infrastructure life cycle a critical factor given that road maintenance work leads to traffic congestion, increased greenhouse gas emissions and greater risks to road users and maintenance workers.
We have received very positive feedback from many industry stakeholders in Europe and also in the US, where we have worked with the National Sustainable Pavement Consortium, a transportation pooled-fund to integrate research, education and outreach focused on enhancing road sustainability, Alvarez-Castro says. The collaboration was conducted under the Twinning umbrella set up by the European Commission and the US Federal Highway Administration.
The LCE4ROADS consortium also explored ways to implement the project results commercially, possibly through offering consulting or advisory services on sustainability supported by the software tool, as well as the potential for ongoing research projects to expand the application of the evaluation methodology.
With more than 5 million kilometres of paved roads in Europe, used by 72 % of people travelling and handling 49 % of freight transport, road transport is the most important transportation network in the EU. It enhances territorial cohesion and connects business opportunities across borders, Alvarez-Castro notes.
The LCE4ROADS evaluation and certification system offers a key opportunity for the EU to adopt a harmonised and standardised approach to improve road safety and reduce the environmental impact of this essential transport infrastructure, he adds.