People usually think of highways as polluted eyesores, but an 18-mile stretch of road in rural Georgia is working to change that perception.
More than 164,000 miles of highway stretch across the U.S., enough to circle the world 6.5 times. But only 18 miles of it endeavors to become the world’s first sustainable highway.
The Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway, or “The Ray” for short, is a section of Interstate 85 in southwestern Georgia that has implemented environmentally minded projects in honor of its namesake. Anderson founded carpet manufacturer Interface Inc. and was called the “greenest CEO in America” for his efforts to make his company environmentally sustainable. The Ray was dedicated in his memory in 2014.
“We haven’t thought about how to make a road smarter, be able to communicate with drivers,” says Harriet Langford, Anderson’s daughter and founder and president of The Ray, an organization that is dedicated to working on the highway. “We haven’t really thought about the extensive land we have. Just on our 18-mile corridor, we have 250 acres of land that’s just underutilized.”
The Ray works to use that land. Kernza wheat, whose deep roots help retain clean water and trap carbon, grows on the shoulder. Bioswales, drainage ditches filled with native Georgia vegetation, capture pollutants during rainstorms.
The I-85 visitor center in West Point, Georgia, has a solar-powered charging station, a solar-paved roadway and a tire pressure system to improve road safety, another goal of The Ray. After cars drive over the system, they come across a kiosk where drivers request a paper ticket or enter their phone number to get a text with information about their tire pressure. A 7,000-square-foot pollinator garden provides a butterfly and honeybee habitat.