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Route 66 Could Become America’s First Solar Panel Roadway

Missouri is teaming up with a solar road startup to begin giving the Mother Road a chance to give back to the grid.

Route 66 could be poised to become the first public road in America to be covered in solar panels, thanks to a joint venture between the state of Missouri and an Idaho-based startup developing the technology. 

Solar Roadways will begin by installing its hexagonal sunlight-absorbing panels on the walkway at the Missouri Welcome Center in Conway, Missouri—but that could be just the beginning. The pilot program between the Missouri Department of Transportation and Solar Roadways—part of the state’s “Road To Tomorrow” project, a series of trial balloons Missouri is floating to seek ways to improve transportation—could from there extend to the fabled cross-country highway.

“If their version of the future is realistic, if we can make that happen, then roadways can begin paying for themselves,” Missouri DOT assistant district engineer Tom Blair told The Kansas City Star last year, speaking about Solar Roadways.

The Sandpoint, Idaho-based startup first completed a prototype of its solar roadway tech back in 2010; since then, it has received funding from the United States DOT for multiple phases of further testing and development, according to the company’s website. The company has also received more than $2 million in crowd-sourced funding via the website Indigogo

In addition to generating electricity, the Solar Roadways panels are also outfitted with LEDs, giving them the ability to display active, changing information—from traffic info to road safety warnings—as needed.

The first public solar roadway became operational last year in France, when a village in Normandy coated a kilometer of street in light-absorbing electrical generators—enough, the town hopes, to power all the street lights in the village.