INVEST in Sustainability: FHWA’s Highway Self-Evaluation Tool

March 25, 2015

Buzzwords like “green”,” sustainable”, and “life cycle” have been popularized and have become part of the everyday vernacular. This is proof that our country is moving in the right direction and beginning to consider our impact on the planet. These all-encompassing terms can be applied to almost every part of our infrastructure from food production and products to buildings and urban design. But, what do we know about the sustainability of our highways, a topic not frequently discussed?

The United States’ National Highway System (NHS), which consists of Interstates and major roads, is comprised of 222,946 miles of pavement. The Interstate system recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary, and the infrastructure is showing its age, requiring more maintenance now than ever. Highway capacity is in need of expansion, and as the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated, “The nation faces a host of serious infrastructure challenges. Demand has outpaced the capacity of our nation’s surface transportation…resulting in decreased performance and reliability.” It’s time for us to take a serious look at this lasting infrastructure.

What is a sustainable highway? A sustainable highway is a system of roads that mitigate the negative impact on the environment to a level past minimum standards. The goal is to maximize the life cycle of highways through up-to-date construction methods and use of recycled materials, ecosystem management, energy reduction, increased water quality and stormwater runoff, and maximized overall social benefits.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has developed a Sustainable Highways Initiative to help state and local agencies document and improve the sustainability of the nation’s roadways. In 2010, the FHWA convened a working group to develop and coordinate sustainable concepts and practices throughout the agency. Now practitioners can use FHWA’s INVEST self-evaluation tool to determine characteristics of sustainable highways and gather information and techniques on how to incorporate sustainability best practices into highway and roadway design projects.

Do you think a rating system like INVEST should become as prevalent as the LEED rating system?



Leave a Comment