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Missouri Department of Transportation to pilot solar paneled roadways

Provided by Solar Roadways

Roads paved with solar panels may sound futuristic, but people soon will walk and maybe even drive on them in Missouri. 

The Missouri Department of Transportation recently announced plans to build a walkway with solar panels at the historic Route 66 welcome center in Conway, Mo., which is about 180 miles southwest of St. Louis. Electricity generated from the panels would power the welcome center.  The pilot project will examine how feasible it is to use the technology before the department considers putting it on more roads and sidewalks.

Credit Provided by Solar Rodaways
Solar Roadways founders Julie and Scott Bursaw with solar panels.

The department will use hexagonal glass solar panels made by Idaho-based startup company Solar Roadways. They are equipped with LED lights to improve road safety and heat elements to prevent snow and ice accumulation. The company raised $2.2 million in startup funds from a crowd-funding campaign in 2014.

The project along Route 66 marks the first time the company has collaborated with a state department of transportation.  The effort is supported by MoDOT's Road to Tomorrow initiative, a program announced last year to research and implement innovative technologies to reconstruct Interstate 70. 

"If this becomes successful, then yeah, you could be ultimately talking about solar roadways we drive on, that melts snow and has the potential to pay for themselves," said Tom Blair, MoDOT's assistant district engineer in St. Louis. "I've been at this for a long time and I've never seen a road that's created its own revenue stream yet."

MoDOT is still negotiating the cost and construction plan with the company, but it hopes to install the panels on Route 66 by the end of the year. If all goes well, the state agency will consider a crowd-funding campaign to place solar panels on streets and sidewalks elsewhere. 

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.