The road to the future

WEST POINT – On Tuesday, the West Point Visitor Center made world history by becoming the first place in the United States to unveil a solar roadway and the first location in the world to have drive-over tire pressure gauges that measure wheel depth that is available for free to the public.

The new technologies were installed at the welcome center as part of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s project to create a corridor of safe, sustainable and beautiful highway on the section of I-85 between the welcome center and Exit 18 known as the Ray. The foundation has received support from the Georgia Department of Transportation as well as other public and private entities to fund the project.

“Without your financial support, there would be no highway project called the Ray,” said Ray C. Anderson Foundation President Harriet Langford.

The section of highway where the Ray is located has seen major growth and increased traffic in recent years thanks to the introduction of Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia and the related facilities that have recently located close to the factory. That growth is only expected to continue in the near future with the expected addition of Great Wolf Lodge and Sentury Tire late next year.

“We are proud to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to achieve innovative ideas and zero loss of life and also improving our environment,” said Kia Chief Administrative Officer Stewart Countess.

Kia has played a major role in helping with technology, landscaping and funding for the Ray where many of its employees drive almost daily.

Wattway

The welcome center is now equipped with a section of solar road that officials hope will be able to power the welcome center in the future and serve as a way to test solar roadways in the U.S.

“We’ve come to discover a way to make clean energy on our highway, and also make money, which leads to economic development and technological prosperity,” said Langford. “We’ve unlocked value for our highways around the world. Just think of this: The surface of the roads will have a second life.

“The United States and the state of Georgia are making history. I’d like to say that our first technology that we are most thrilled about is Wattway – our beautiful solar road. Wattway is a first in the United States. It’s a thin, heavy-duty, skid resistant, photo votaive panels that can be directly applied to existing pavement and generate energy from the sun.”

Wattway is a French company owned by Colas which was founded in 1929 and specializes in road construction and rail track construction. Several similar roads have been installed in France, but this section of road is the first stretch of solar road anywhere in the US.

“(We) manufacture and install the electric system in compliance with American regulations,” said Wattway Director Jean-Charles Broizat. “I am very proud to be here in the United States – the land of pioneers and innovations – to inaugurate the first Wattway… site on American soil.”

The actual Wattway panels are covered in a protective resin that mimics the traction of a normal highway, so they would be safe to drive on even during bad weather. The panels are easily installed over currently existing roadways, and if proven affective could revolutionize the energy industry around the world.

WheelRight

The welcome center also became the first location in the world to have this advanced style of tire pressure and tread depth monitor installed. The monitor uses imaging technology to measure weight, pressure, circumference, temperature and tread depth of tires. Earlier versions checked only pressure, but officials hope that by measuring tread depth, motorists will be able to make better, more informed decisions about their tires.

“WheelRight is a state of the art, drive over tire safety system that measures tire pressure and – for the first time anywhere – tread depth, right here at our (West Point) Visitor Center,” said Langford. “It is open and free to the public. … On the Ray, safety is our number one goal. Under-or over-inflated tires reduce gas mileage and efficiency, cause carbon pollution and kill people. We value each life on our highway, and we believe this technology to be a game changer for the world.”

In a 2007 study, the US Government Accountability Office estimated that underinflated tires resulted in .8 percent of driving fatalities, but even that small number is huge considering how easily preventable those accidents were. But even if inflating tires doesn’t save your life, they could save you money and the environment at the same time.

“Efficiency and also the reduction of waste – these are areas that Ray Anderson highlighted in his personal station with Interface,” said WheelRight Chief Executive John Catling. “Without his legacy we wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak with you. He is and was a true visionary.

“We have a vision too. Our vision is to help drivers check the depth on their tires. It is a dirty chore. Most of us don’t want to do it. We ignore them, but we want to make that process simple, easy and convenient for every one of you here who has a car.”

Drivers who want to use the system, just need to drive over the sensor located behind the welcome center then use the provided computer to find out their results.

“What we didn’t fully recognize (at first) was all the potential opportunities such as the vision that they were looking at,” said Kia Chief Administrative Officer Stewart Countess. “… The fact that one in every four tires on a car are underinflated, that presents a problem with regards to meeting safety and vehicle handling and performance and fuel efficiency. The drive through technology that you see here today allows for tire pressure and tire depth with never leaving your vehicle.”

The minimum recommended tread depth is 2/32, and drivers with lower tread depths are encouraged to get new tires.

The Ray

These new technologies added to the hard work that has been underway on the Ray for months, revitalizing the welcome center and beginning work on areas near the exits, and officials ranging from local mayors and city councils to the governor were excited to be a part of this new page of Georgia history.

“I am proud of the hard work Kia Motors Manufacturing, Georgia, the Ray organization and the Georgia Department of Transportation have carried out in collaborating with the state transportation board to bring two groundbreaking transportation technologies to Georgia – the Wattway and WheelRight,” said Gov. Nathan Deal in a statement that was read at the event, as the governor could not be there in person due to weather concerns. “I understand that these are brand new to the world, and their instillation in the new visitor center are the first of their kind in the United States.

“This unique partnership between private, non-profit and state partners has made it possible to move Georgia to lead the country and the world in demonstrating technological innovation, enhancing Georgia’s long history of achievement, advancement and leadership in the global energy, technology and transportation sectors.”

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation plans to continue work on the highway, with additional landscaping and technology expected to be installed on the highway January.

Reach Alicia B. Hill at alicia.hill@lagrangenews.com or at 706-884-7311, Ext. 2154.