The Greenest, Quietest Mile

The star of the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s midyear meeting in Chicago is Michigan Avenue.

The recently-rebuilt downtown thoroughfare is, by the accounts of a number of speakers singing its praises, the greenest, or one of the greenest, major roads in the country. It is certainly the result of some innovative thinking from origination, to the mix (think heavy recycled content) which is a thing of beauty, to the way contractor Arrow Road Construction did the work.

And as you know, I believe innovative thinking is an essential attribute for any group of people trying to solve today’s transportation dilemmas from small to large.

Gabe Klein, ChicagoDOT Commissioner, says, “The Mayor [Rahm Emanuel] has charged us with doing more for less. With tough times comes innovation because you have to. This project is a great example of innovating through tough times. We got a project done really fast at a considerably lower cost, and it is good for the environment.

“I think we think that if we are going to do something for the environment it’s going to cost us an arm and a leg. That’s just not true. You can actually do things cheaper, and faster, and make them sustainable. And,” says Klein, this year Chicago will “do twice as much, double the paving, for the same amount of money.”

Klein also has an interesting challenge for visitors walking the sidewalks of the fabled strip even at busy traffic periods:”Listen and see if you can hear the kids across the street playing. It’s that quiet.”

Arrow Road Construction president John Healy says his company faced a series of challenges from beating the rapidly-oncoming 2011 fall, to replacing bus pads, to avoiding old layers of asphalt sheets, basically an asphalt cement and sand mix popular in the days of horses, to finding a tack coat that wouldn’t stick because, despite the best efforts of flagmen, pedestrians walked anywhere they wanted to, any time they wanted to. Every city paver knows the last one.

So just how ambitious is Mayor Rahm Emanneul? Klein says the Mayor wants every pothole in the city filled. For Chicago, that is a major challenge indeed.

That’s not all Chicago is doing. This massive city has a plan for the immediate future, and it may be one of the best blueprints around. It is at the very least a reference for big cities, maybe cities of various sizes, struggling with the triangular problem of doing more, doing it with less, and doing it in a sustainable way.