Building America’s first ‘green highway’

Imagine a highway stretching along the coast from California to Mexico – with alternative, eco-friendly fuels available at every rest stop.  Need compressed natural gas?  Electricity?  Biodiesel?  Hydrogen?  They’d offer it to every car that passes by.

That’s the dream of three state governors – Gov. Chris Gregoire in Washington, Gov. Ted Kulongoski in Oregon, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California – who envision America’s first “Green Highway” across 1,300 miles of coastland. 

If the idea can clear federal and state regulations … not to mention opposition from business groups who say alternative refueling stations at rest stops would take business away from nearby private entities … it would be a milestone in both American environmentalism and inter-state cooperation. 

Nancy Southern, who directs Saybrook’s Organizational Systems program, says it also might be a good reason to finally buy an alternative fuel vehicle.

“I was just thinking yesterday about when I might get one, and my mind immediately went to how difficult it would be to obtain the fuel source,” she says.  “It is great to see the recognition that this is a system we are trying to change.”

In fact, Southern suggests, it could go a long way towards short-circuiting a “chicken-or-egg” conundrum that often greets new technologies like this:  few people will purchase the technology until it becomes practical, and it won’t become practical until a lot of people use it.

“If we want to reduce greenhouse gases, we need to increase the use of alternative fueled vehicles,” Southern says.  “If we want people to buy these vehicles, we need to provide convenient ways to service them.  Until that happens, their use will be limited.”

A green highway could be a model for other municipalities to follow – if they can clear the hurdles.  Southern’s suggestion:  don’t fight the free market, co-opt it.

“The opposition which is coming from private business could be resolved by establishing public-private partnerships in bringing the alternative fuel services to these areas,” hopefully taking in the best of both worlds … and getting everyone on board.