Could a roadway paved with solar panels generate enough revenue to pay for itself, and more?
That's a question Missouri Department of Transportation officials hope to address with a pilot project to create a solar sidewalk at an Interstate 44 rest area in Webster County.
The solar project is one outgrowth of MoDOT's "Road to Tomorrow" program. Just over a year ago, a team of experts from MoDOT was assembled to evaluate ideas submitted by private industry, entrepreneurs, innovators and others.
"Developing solar panels you can drive on," is a concept MoDOT will put to the test by year's end, according to Tom Blair, assistant district engineer in MoDOT's St. Louis area district and leader of "Road to Tomorrow."
The state agency will be working with Idaho-based Solar Roadways, founded by inventors Scott and Julie Brusaw. The company has passed two tests with federal highway officials and the Missouri project will mark a continuation of federal testing.
Blair likened the solar panels to bullet-proof glass, characterized by the company as specially formulated tempered glass that provides traction similar to asphalt and can support the weight of semi-trucks.
MoDOT officials acknowledge the concept will be subject to skepticism from Show-Me state residents. "We're Missouri and taxpayers" will want to be convinced the product meets promotional promises.
Missourians, however, also will want to prepare to stretch their imaginations.
"Technology already has changed how we think about different aspects of our lives," Blair said, "and it is going to disrupt everything that every one of us transportation leaders have experienced to date in our life."
He added that if transportation officials fail to embrace technology, "We will soon have self-driving, 'smart' vehicles on our dumb and underfunded roadways."
Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission.