ICT/Tollway Develop State-of-the-Art-and-Practice Tool for Highway Sustainability

A collaboration was unveiled in June 2013 between ICT and the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority for development of a complete roadway/roadside life-cycle assessment (LCA) tool to quantitatively predict the environmental impact of roadway construction. When completed, the LCA tool will cover all phases of a roadway/roadside life cycle, including materials, construction, maintenance, use-phase, and end-of-life stages. Applied Research Associates and theRightEnvironment are also partners in this research project. The tools developed in this project will enable the Tollway to quantitatively rate projects and demonstrate their sustainability performance to the public, recommend best practices, and move toward a portfolio that is more sustainable. In addition to these benefits, the development of more sustainable practices will optimize the use of recycled materials, thus limiting the agency’s use of natural resources. In addition, road users will save millions of dollars’ worth of fuel, thanks to the improved riding quality of the roads they drive on.

“The Tollway is committed to making environmental responsibility and sustainability part of everything we do – from planning to implementation to maintenance,” says Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur. “We are excited that we are working in partnership with the University of Illinois; these innovative new tools will not only help us better integrate sustainable practices into our construction projects, but they will also allow us to evaluate their effectiveness during construction and beyond.”

According to principal investigator Imad Al-Qadi, ICT director and Founder Professor of Engineering in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, this tool is the first comprehensive and regionalized LCA tool that allows the quantification of emissions based on local data. “The collaboration between the agency, industry, and academia has been very beneficial, and the outcome tool will be readily available for application by owners, designers, consultants, and contractors,” says Al-Qadi.

In addition to the several Ph.D. and M.S. students who are assisting with this project, many UIUC professors, representing diverse areas of expertise, have been actively involved in the development of the tool, including Hasan Ozer, Yanfeng Ouyang, Art Schmidt, Jeremy Guest, and Jeff Roesler.

“Currently, the research teams are working on the development of other modules such as drainage, structures, landscape, and lighting. At the same time, a new version of the pavement LCA tool is being developed,” says ICT researcher Hasan Ozer, who is coordinating various tasks of the project at UIUC.

ICT is responsible for developing the pavement and drainage modules of the roadway/roadside LCA tool. The preliminary version of the pavement LCA framework and tool was submitted to the Tollway for calculating the environmental impact of Tollway roads in the material, construction, maintenance/rehabilitation, and use-phase life cycle phases. The tool was used to assess the sustainability impact of construction practices that have been adopted by the Tollway based on historical and recent construction data. Several environmental indicators were considered, including total energy, global warming potential, and total sustainability impact.

The environmental impacts of construction projects completed in 2013 and baseline projects, selected from projects constructed between 1995 and 2008, were analyzed by Applied Research Associates using the pavements LCA tool developed in this research study. It was observed that 2013 projects performed much better than the baseline projects. The benefit of this analysis was that it quantified the effect of the green initiatives that the Tollway has been implementing in all of their projects.

“ARA is excited that we now have the framework in place for all five modules of the LCA tool: pavements, bridges, drainage, lighting, and landscaping.  This will be one of the most comprehensive highway LCA tools in the industry.  We are seeing that the Tollway has already implemented many strategies that represent significant improvement in sustainability, and this analysis and this tool will help the Tollway identify other critical components to continue this improvement in future years,” states William Vavrik, ARA vice president and principal engineer.

Developed according to ISO 14044:2006 Environmental Management – Life Cycle Assessment – Requirements and Guidelines, the user-friendly tools are expected to be employed by Tollway project managers and designers to assess the sustainability performance of construction projects. As a result, the Tollway will be able monitor its sustainability performance and goals and choose from among construction alternatives based not only on cost information but also on environmental indicators.