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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Stephen T Muench
CEE 498
Seattle Campus

Special Topics

Special topics in civil engineering offered as course with lecture and/or laboratory. Maximum of 6 credits in combination of CEE 498 and CEE 499 may be applied toward an undergraduate degree.

Class description

Course Title: Sustainable Roadway Design, Construction, and Assessment. This course is designed to overview sustainability as it applies to roadway design/construction, what features of a roadway can contribute to sustainability (and how), and how one can go about analyzing a roadway in order to quantify sustainability in a meaningful way. Subjects will include (1) an introduction to sustainability, (2) where transportation fits into sustainability, (3) a review of current regulations and standards for roadways, (4) sustainability best practices divided up into categories, (5) sustainability assessment using life cycle assessment, and (6) sustainability assessment using rating systems. The topics are focused on roadway design and construction. While planning (e.g., where should the road go? Should there be a road? What other alternatives are there?) and maintenance/operations are vital components to a sustainable society; we leave those topics largely to other classes. The entering argument here is this: You are going to build a road. Our key goal is then to make such a road more sustainable than it otherwise might be. There is no such thing as a sustainable road textbook so we will make use of online resources available for free.

Student learning goals

The ability to take in information, synthesize and analyze it, and then make intelligent decisions is fundamental to engineering. This ability, termed “critical thinking” here, can be difficult but is a reality of everyday practice. Information is often incomplete or inconsistent and must be effectively synthesized and analyzed in order to make decisions. Upon completion of this class the student will be able to exercise critical thinking by making engineering judgment decisions based on real-world information that is often inconsistent or incomplete.

A greater emphasis on sustainability in civil engineering comes from the context in which we live today. An understanding of this context helps direct efforts and provides insight into why sustainability has become more important and what its ultimate impacts are. Upon completion of this topic the student should be able to: (1) describe the context of 21st century engineering to include: world population, resource demand, human development and effects, (2) describe transportation’s role in this global sustainability context and, specifically, the contribution of roads, and (3) define "sustainability".

While this course is not meant to teach geometric design or environmental policy it is important to understand the existing regulatory and standards environment in which roads are constructed. This environment largely determines the minimum acceptable qualities of a road. Upon completion of this topic the student should be able to (1) describe current major regulatory requirements for roadways to include how the following affect roadway design and construction: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and roadway noise requirements, (2) describe the current design standards used for roads, and (3) discuss the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and what is contained in 29 CFR 1926.

Beyond what is required by regulations and standards, there are many practices that can be incorporated into roadway design and construction to improve sustainability. These practices represent the difference between minimum regulatory compliance and what the state of the practice can produce. Upon completion of this topic the student should be able to discuss, in general, sustainability best practices related to the following broad topics: environment, water, access, equity, construction, and materials.

One way to quantify at least some of the environmental impacts of a project or process is by using life cycle assessment (LCA). Such a quantification can be used as an accounting or decision support tool for roadway design and construction. There are several LCA tools available for use with roadways. We will use and learn three. Upon completion of this topic the student should be able to (1) describe the life cycle assessment general method including its strengths and weaknesses, (2) conduct a roadway LCA using the EIO-LCA, PaLATE, and Roadprint tools, and (3) analyze and interpret LCA results.

Ultimately, sustainability involves everything about a project. While LCA can give some quantification to some items, a broader assessment approach would be to use a general rating system. While rating systems can be less rigorous than other engineering tools, they can serve a useful quantification and communication function for roadway sustainability. Upon completion of this topic the student should be able to (1) describe what a roadway sustainability rating system is including generally attributed weaknesses and strengths, (2) list at least five roadway rating systems or guides presently available, (3) describe the philosophy behind and operation of the Greenroads Rating System, and (4) rate a roadway project using the Greenroads Rating System.

General method of instruction

Lectures, guest lectures, homework assignments, group final project

Recommended preparation

Show up. Think green. Sleep well the night before or bring coffee (it's an 8:30 a.m. class).

Class assignments and grading

Class is divided into 5 major sections, typically with a quiz and HW assignment for each. There is one final project that will carry through the entire quarter where small groups of students will analyze an actual road project for best practices, perform a LCA on it and perform a Greenroads A-Lined Assessment on it.

Class participation, grades on homework and exams, final project group grade and individual contributions to the group project.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Stephen T Muench
Date: 08/20/2012