Today, there is an ongoing push for more sustainable efforts in transportation planning and construction to preserve the environment in which we live. Randy Albert, P.E., of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has expertise in a number of innovative methods of “going green” in transportation projects.
Albert spends his days working with different communities in a nine-county area in the northwestern area of Pennsylvania to solve problems with roads and bridges. His main task is finding solutions to various problems that communities bring to his attention. The environment has to be considered in all of these projects.
Most recently, Albert has been working with PennDOT on a new system of constructing bridges using sustainable materials. While most bridges are built with concrete and steel, this system uses geotextile fabric?which is similar to the landscape fabric in flower beds?and fresh stone or gravel to create the abutments that support the bridge. The technical term for this system is Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil-Integrated Bridge Systems, or GRS-IBS?but the way Albert described it is a bit more...catchy:
“What it starts out with ? is a soil burrito,” Albert said. “It’s gravel wrapped in geotextile fabric. And the rest of the abutment is essentially layers of stone built out of the same gravel and the same geotextile fabric.”
Using GRS-IBS is an economical solution to repairing bridges that saves time as well as resources. With the system, time spent repairing a bridge can be shortened to weeks of construction, versus months or even a year. The environmental benefits are two-fold, according to Albert. First, a quick turnaround time is less invasive to the surrounding habitat. Because bridges are often constructed over natural rivers, lakes, or streams, it is important to minimize the impact of their construction on the surrounding ecosystem. Minimizing the time that the ground is open is integral to this process. Second, the reduced construction time means lower exhaust emissions from traffic congestion, especially in highly populated areas.
New technologies are being implemented into transportation projects all over the nation. These include pavement temperature sensors to help predict when roads are going to freeze; trucks that are equipped with sensors that meter and monitor the amount of material put on icy roads in the winter; and other new and exciting tools that are changing the way transportation projects impact sustainability and the surrounding environment. There are many areas students can look into. It’s not just roads and bridges, Albert said.
“There’s a variety of things you can get into in the transportation industry that can take you down a number of paths,” he said. “Find something you’re comfortable with ? There’s probably an area of transportation that you could move into that will serve you.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the environmental impact of transportation projects like bridges, check out the Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO. For more on GRS-IBS specifically, you can also visit the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website.