I wish a police officer would give me a sticker. No, not the kind that is slapped on the driver-side window ordering a tow to pick up an abandoned vehicle. I mean one of those that resemble a badge. Every once in awhile you see our finest talking with kids, and passing out stickers. Too often we see them running on automatic Robocop mode, whether it’s heroically pulling someone from an automobile wreck or being a strict enforcer of the law. Most, if not all, have a genuine touch, and this is heralded when they are interacting with the future generation.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the sheriff of clean air, is attempting to pass out smiles throughout the highway industry behind its Green Highways Initiative. Its mission is promoting innovative steamlining and market-based approaches toward sustainable solutions for transportation and environmental improvements. Wait, let me type that again . . the goal is to promote innovative streamlining toward sustainable solutions for transportation and environmental improvements. For decades, the EPA has had more of a green Grinch approach to highway construction. It seemed like it was always looking for ways to stop pavement growth instead of fertilize it.
But this new attitude truly is for real. It even comes with guiding principles, including:
- Achieve goals through voluntary participation and public-private partnerships;
- Provide communication and support network to avoid duplication and help streamline business practices and processes;
- Promote a collaborative approach to conservation and integrated, watershed management that leverages efforts of all levels of government and the private sector to maximize benefits;
- Remove barriers to achieving innovative and positive results;
- Leverage transportation and environmental resources to multiply benefits and maximize results; and
- Support and stimulate applied research and training to remove barriers identified by partners and stakeholders.
The EPA is not sitting around sucking on the bare bones of the program, either. Instead, the agency is chewing the fat with industry leaders across the county. The first charrette was held this past summer and a number of themes were developed, including: partnerships between public agencies, private industry and non-governmental outfits; making sure economic, social and environmental goals do not affect one another; and improving the predictability of highway projects.
The meeting, however, could not dodge some concerns. Some had reservations about using a ratings system linked to formal certification. There were still questions about how the lengthy review process would be shortened, and how goals would be balanced.
The Green Highways Initiative might be far from red ripe, but the industry should be impressed with how all facets of the industry—contractors, government officials, engineers—are finally joining hands and attempting to work out some pressing issues. The next step for the EPA is to sharpen the scope of the program, and I expect several more charrettes to follow.
So far, the effort has been impressive. Those involved are certainly doing their homework—and that deserves a sticker.