Solar pilot project could pave way to roads of the future

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CONWAY, Mo. We've seen solar panels in fields or on rooftops. But what about flat on the ground? The Missouri Department of Transportation is planning a pilot solar project at an Ozarks rest stop.

The rest stop on west-bound I-44 near Conway is dedicated to historic highway Route 66, but it could help pave the way to the roadways of tomorrow.

Laurel McKean, MoDot Assistant District Engineer, says, "This is just a really exciting project to be able to be a part of something that could be the future."

MoDot is planning a pilot project with solar panels that lie flat on the ground. They're talking with an Idaho company called Solar Roadways, and feel sure their hexagon shaped solar panels would generate lots of talk.

"We're hoping, because that's part of what we want to try to do, is really showcase, and part of why we picked this location is because of the the historic Route 66 concept. You know, here's one of the main roadways that's iconic for the United States, and being able to use the history to create potentially the future," says McKean.

While the solar roadways panels are designed to be strong enough to drive on, MoDot is going to first try them out with foot traffic here on the sidewalk to the rest stop's main entrance. "This is kind of the first phase, and we hope in the future that we then can move it out into maybe the parking lot, and then maybe into a travel area," says McKean.

The 12 by 20 foot patch of panels would not only generate electricity to help power the rest stop, but heat as well, to prevent ice and snow from accumulating on the surface.

"What's so appealing from the revenue side is yeah, if we don't have to treat roads or sidewalks or pavement anymore, that's less material, less chloride, less things that go into the environment and also the aspect of getting energy," McKean says.

MoDot says it's the first in Missouri, and the solar sidewalk could be just the beginning. MoDot is using about $100,000 of federal research dollars for the project. They would like to get the panels installed before the first snow.