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Commentary: Infrastructure needs green standards

Christian Steinbrecher
Dolan Media Newswires

Portland, OR – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design has enjoyed such acceptance by the building community that it has become the standard.
But what about transportation infrastructure projects?

Determining a measurement standard for the sustainability of transportation infrastructure starts with the consideration of global issues such as trip generation, transportation mode, vehicle type and fuel type. What is the need for movement? Can trips be reduced? What is the best mode for the trip? What kind of vehicle is most appropriate? What will fuel that vehicle?

What is appropriate for a dense urban environment may be different than what is appropriate for an industrial area, and that may be different for an agricultural area and for a rural area.

The evolution of a report card on environmental impacts on the infrastructure world of today is much like the building world of 1994, when the U.S. Green Building Council was in its infancy and the idea of a ratings system was just a concept.

Greenroads is a proposed standard for quantifying sustainable practices in the design and construction of roads. In its present form, it has a system of 62 credits in 11 requirements categorized in seven areas: general project requirements, environment and water, access and equity, construction activities, materials and resources, pavement technologies, and performance. Sponsors include the Washington Department of Transportation and the University of Washington.

Greenlites is a system implemented by the New York State Department of Transportation. It is a self certification program that provides projects with a scorecard based on 20 different areas. General categories for Greenlites include site sustainability, water quality, materials and resources, energy and atmosphere, and innovation.

The Sustainable Transportation and Access Rating System looks at projects from a global level. Still in its early development stages, the system is being spearheaded by experts in the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

The ultimate success of any system involving sustainability standards will be measured by the acceptance it receives from the public. The system’s details need not be understood by everyone, but it must engage the public in the same way LEED has.

Acceptance from the bottom up creates a vacuum and therefore a market for projects that achieve high sustainability standards. If ambitious decision-makers ride the wave of acceptance and lend their support to this effort, it would create a critical mass sufficient to generate successful momentum.

Christian Steinbrecher is the owner of Capital Project Consultants and is on the board of Transcape LLC, a transportation and infrastructure consulting firm.

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