Futures Forum: The future of public services: "Design-led thinking and a user-centred approach are integral to transforming our public services into successful, sustainable services."
And looking after roads is especially expensive:
Futures Forum: Volunteers in the community: 'doing jobs for free' or 'empowering communities to take local action'?
Perhaps we need to look beyond asphalt...
There are unspoken issues associated with using tarmac for road-building:
Firstly, there is the context of reducing reliance on fossil fuels:
Tarmac, and other such substances used for paving,are, as the Mundi Club point out,little more than coagulated oil slicks. These substances are products of levels of the catalytic cracker process in the same way that oil is. They underwrite oil production — make it an economically viable enterprise when otherwise it would not be; for while “The oil industry is mainly interested in gasoline production and profits ... refineries must run at high utilisation of capacity to be efficient and profitable. Refineries must produce great quantities of asphalt and various chemicals which must go somewhere ... thus asphalt and herbicides are spread about the land making it possible for refineries to function...near full throttle.”
The advocates of a ‘fossil free energy strategy’ unfortunately do not accept an accompanying end to paving, one of the logical consequences of that strategy. The production of tarmac, etc, and the production of oil are interdependent parts of refinery operations, and of the petrochemical economy — without one, you cannot have the other. So how will they square this circle — do their proposals actually require a continuation of that petrochemical economy that we’ve come to know and love?
Stopping The Industrial Hydra: Revolution Against The Megamachine
And in fact, the approach of 'Peak Oil' might make the use of asphalt/tar/bitumen prohibitively expensive anyway:
Futures Forum: Peak oil, peak soil, peak water... peak everything
Here is a piece from the Oil Drum website:
The Oil Drum: Europe | Peak asphalt: the return of gravel roads
One alternative might be concrete:
Why are they Replacing All the Concrete Roads with Asphalt? Ask an Engineer!
Another might be glass:
Solar-powered 'smart' roads could zap snow, ice
Solar-powered 'smart' roads could zap snow, ice - CNN.com
Pave this: replace asphalt on roads with solar panels, power the nation
By Joe McKendrick
Aug 6, 2010
Solar-panel-paved roads and interstates could provide three times as much electricity now produced. But is it a workable idea on such a large scale?
Here's an idea that could provide the United States with all the solar power it needs, while also helping to fix a large part of our crumbling infrastructure: pave our 25,000 square miles of roadways with intelligent solar panels. A road "that pays for itself," its designers propose.
Is this a feasible idea, or something akin to trying to build a bridge across the Atlantic?
There may be some economic justification. Liquid asphalt, a petroleum-based derivative, now costs close to $1,000 a ton, while asphalt itself is still under $100 a ton, says Scott Brusaw of Solar Roadways, an engineer proposing the idea. "We can't keep building asphalt roads, doing the same thing... its an antiquated system we've been doing too long," he says. "Let's move on and leave the fossil fuels behind us."
Solar panels, operating at just 15 percent efficiency, installed as roadway surfaces within the 25,000 square miles of existing roads in the lower 48 states, would be capable of producing "three times as much electricity that we produce on an annual basis -- almost enough to power the entire world," Brusaw says.
Solar Roadways: The Prototype - YouTube
The prototypes for Solar Roadways were funded by a research award from the US Department of Transportation, which solicited ideas for an "intelligent pavement" that could generate power and pay for itself. Brusaw and his team built a 12' by 12' solar road panel prototype, along with a 3' by 3' LED-lit "crosswalk" panel. The smaller panel could be used to mark and illuminate the edges of roads and other hazards, Brusaw says.
"Roads are collecting heat anyway," Brusaw says, adding that "the technology behind it has already been done today."
Can a sheet of glass withstand pounding by two-ton cars, trucks, and buses? This is possible, Brusaw says, as "glass can have as high of strength as steel." There are other issues to be addressed, he adds, noting that driving on glass "has got to have the same traction as asphalt," as well as be shatterproof and glareproof.
However, the idea has its critics. When the DOT award was made for the idea, for example, a commentaryat The Infrastructurist site poo-pooed the idea as impracticable:
"Solar Roadways is engineering PV panels to withstand 40-ton vehicles going 80 miles an hour over them day and night for decades. How much more does it cost to make solar panels–already a bit pricey–totally indestructible? We’re guessing a lot. And this all so we can avoid putting them someplace sensible, like on all those empty rooftops in America’s sunnier climes, where cars and trucks don’t drive and where there also happens to be an existing electrical grid for them to hook into."
It may be too expensive and impracticable to lay out 25,000 square miles of solar panels. But perhaps some hybrid or partial approaches can be put in place. Or are we better off using more -- as The Infrastructurist suggests -- "sensible" locales for solar panels?
Pave this: replace asphalt on roads with solar panels, power the nation - SmartPlanet
Of course, there is the argument that we rely too much on our road system:
Futures Forum: The End of Suburbia: ten years on
Futures Forum: Lewis Mumford: "The physical design of cities and their economic functions are secondary to their relationship to the natural environment."
For something which really does challenge assumptions, see:
Whose Streets? Anarchism, Technology and the Petromodern State | Uri Gordon - Academia.edu