Current required environmental impact studies do not make consideration of “embodied” greenhouse gases mandatory. However, carbon emissions embodied in the infrastructure supporting transportation systems have shown to be significant in proportion to “tailpipe” emissions. Construction activities alone for a one-mile stretch of road can amount to the embodied emissions of an entire 50-story high-rise. The new Presidio Parkway is a 1.5 mile stretch of highway in California that includes a complex array of bridges, interchanges, retaining walls, tunnels and other structures. As part of the project a Sustainability Program that identified materials and carbon as issues of focus was conducted. An embodied carbon analysis was performed for a segment of the highway. The analysis is based on life-cycle assessment principles and includes emissions from “cradle-to-site.” Results are broken down into materials specification categories to show which elements generate the highest carbon emissions. Structural concrete stood out as the greatest contributor. Further analyses shows how designers and contractors can reduce emissions from the baseline specification, but still remain within industry best practice.
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