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First ‘solar roadway’ in US coming to Route 66

The panels contain LED lights to create lines and signage without the need for paint.

A segment of the historic US Route 66 — the roughly 2,450 mile highway stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, California — will soon be covered in solar panels.

Idaho-based startup Solar Roadways will provide the panels, which are to be placed on a section of the road in Conway, Missouri. The company describes its tempered-glass technology as a “modular system of specially engineered solar panels that can be walked and driven upon”.

The panels contain LED lights to create lines and signage without the need for paint and also contain heating features to prevent ice and snow buildup.

The roadway is part of the Missouri Department of Transportation’s ‘Road to Tomorrow’ project, which is focussed on modernising highways using ‘smart’ techniques and renewable energy.

The Solar Roadways panels contain microprocessors that allow the panels to communicate with each other and a central control centre. Repairs to the road could also be made easier because the panels are modular.

The Missouri Department of Transportation intends to trial the 20-by-12 foot panels, initially using them to cover sidewalks and rest areas off Route 66. They could be in place before the end of this year.

However, there are some logistical concerns plaguing the concept of solar roads — traffic and water damage risks among them.

As it stands, the Road to Tomorrow is prepared to take a chance at innovation.

“If [Solar Roadway’s] version of the future is realistic, if we can make that happen, then roadways can begin paying for themselves,” said Tom Blair, the head of the initiative.

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