A Living Laboratory For Transportation Innovation — #CleanTechnica Interview With Allie Kelly

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transportation innovation

Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray, a non-profit organization which is the nation’s only publicly accessible, living laboratory for transportation innovation, has been announced as a featured speaker for the 2019 WTS Conference in Boston, May 15-17, 2019. With a vision to achieve equity and access for women in the transportation industry, WTS generates high-caliber professional opportunities for members through events and activities, networking opportunities, and unparalleled access to industry and government leaders.

Inspired by Ray Anderson, who committed in the 1990s to shape business practices with a sustainable lens, The Ray is a proving ground for evolving ideas and technologies that can transform the transportation infrastructure of the future. It starts on 18 miles of west Georgia’s I-85 and the land and communities surrounding it.

As the leader of The Ray, Kelly is at the forefront of emerging trends in the transportation industry. We conducted a really fun interview recently with her.

transportation innovation

CT: You have helped implement and build almost a dozen ground-breaking, world-leading technology demonstrations, including the first solar road in the United States and the world’s first public demonstration of a drive-through tire safety station. Will you be talking about either/ both of these at WTS? If so, will there be any opportunities for show & tell? 🙂 In other words, how do you intend to educate the audience as to these new transportation possibilities?

Kelly: Now that would be something – I wonder what TSA would say about trying to carry-on infrastructure! All jokes aside, I do carry a sample of the Wattway solar road with me, and that will be available for participants to touch and feel. They’ll be surprised by the very thin and skid resistance surface!

We will also be giving WTS participants an early look at a brand new tool we’ve created in partnership with University of Texas at Austin’s Webber Group. This interactive online tool will allow state DOTs to explore their individual state’s potential for building solar arrays in their rights-of-way and provide some projections of expected revenue from that investment. Not to give too much away…but we’re working on a virtual reality experience so that in the future, no matter where you are, you can #RideTheRay!

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CT: With the preponderance of invasive vegetation due to climate change, it makes sense to grow crops in a road’s right-of-way — even if chemicals and pollutants make their way into the denigrated soil — for the purposes of non-ingestible products. How can local public officials be persuaded to relinquish control over these otherwise abandoned roadsides? Can rain and swale ponds also be part of the roadside reclamation? What would convince road engineers to take an interest in roadside pollinator gardens, which seems to be out of their areas of expertise?

Kelly: The first and most important thing to know about alternative uses of the right-of-way is that it is 100% supported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and is nothing new! FHWA not only allows but has enabling guidelines for DOTs to participate in these activities. Native pollinator meadows can help with back-slope stabilization in steep areas unsuitable for maintenance equipment. Perennial wheat grains, like the Kernza planted on The Ray, acts as a super carbon-sequesterer with its 10-foot root structures.

Solar arrays in the right-of-way reduce the need to transfer valuable agricultural land over to energy production. DOTs benefit from leasing their rights-of-way the day the agreement is signed. Even before you get to profits and benefits to the environment, the contractor takes over all the maintenance obligations. That’s serious savings for state DOTs. North Carolina, Kansas, and Utah have all participated in smart vegetative management strategies such as “freeways to fuel” (note: which explore the feasibility and economics of utilizing highway right of ways to produce bioenergy crops), and Oregon and Massachusetts have already installed solar arrays on their rights-of-way. (With Georgia to soon follow!)

To me, it’s not an issue of persuading them to relinquish control, but educating them about this opportunity that is, as Ray Anderson would have said: “so right, so smart.”


CT: What should municipalities know about solar roadways for their 5 and 10 year planning?

Kelly: They should know that solar roads are a reality! The company, Wattway by Colas, is breaking into the commercial space this year with use cases that owner/operators, turnpike authorities, city governments, and even entities that manage major pedestrian projects (like the Beltline in Atlanta) can take advantage of.


CT: On what topics will you be speaking at WTS? How is that particular audience influencing your topic selection?

Kelly: I’ll be focusing primarily on how renewable energy can electrify and decarbonize the transportation sector. We can charge electric vehicles while they drive, and choose infrastructure options that multi-task, producing energy while serving as a road surface or even a noise barrier.

I’m looking forward to speaking to the WTS audience because I think women are key to moving us into a smarter, more sustainable future. To get there, we’re going to need to be innovative and embrace new funding structures, like the P4 (public, private, philanthropic partnerships). And we’ll need to be transparent while we do it. We can’t be afraid of failure.

The women of WTS have the right mindset to embrace the future. Not only that, but we are a woman led initiative. Our founder and president, Harriet Langford, is Ray Anderson’s daughter and has embraced the mission of carrying on her father’s legacy into the transportation sector.


About Allie Kelly at WTS

Kelly is passionate about speaking about The Ray from the main stage at industry conferences around the world. She was the recipient of the 2018 Atlanta Technology Professionals Impact Award and was listed as one of the 100 Women to Know by Engineering Georgia in 2018.

“The conference provides transportation leaders a forum where they can exchange ideas and engage in conversation about emerging developments in the industry,” said Maggie Walsh, WTS International Board Chair. “Connecting with the conference theme, ‘The Hub of Ingenuity’, it is the perfect platform for Allie Kelly to share her expertise on ‘smart transportation’ and hear about The Ray’s mission to implement new ideas and technologies towards a safer and sustainable future. Her passion and energy around this topic is sure to inspire attendees.”

Kelly’s address is one of the many highlights of the Annual Conference, the premier multi-modal event of the year. It attracts more than 700 corporate and governmental industry leaders worldwide, including executives, CEOs, government administrators, and leading engineering authorities. Attendees at the conference gather to network, discuss the state of the world’s transportation infrastructure, strategize on advancing professionally, and share experiences and insights on making positive changes for future generations.

What is the WTS?

WTS International and WTS Foundation, headquartered in Washington, DC, is dedicated to equity and access for women in the transportation industry. With the slogan “advancing women in transportation” and more than 6,500 members (men and women) in 60 professional and 22 student chapters across the US, Canada, and the UK, WTS is turning the glass ceiling into a career portal through its professional programs, networking opportunities, and access to industry and government leaders. WTS Foundation has provided more than $4 million in scholarships to deserving women, supporting the next generation of professionals and advancing the principles of WTS.

WTS International was founded in 1977 by a group of pioneering women in transportation who realized that women’s careers would benefit from professional development, encouragement, and recognition to support their advancement in transportation professions.

Images courtesy of The Ray

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

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