Taking its cue from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED building certification program, a new Illinois initiative seeks to incorporate sustainable design and construction practices into state road and transportation projects.

Like LEED, the Illinois-Livable and Sustainable Transportation (I-LAST) Guide establishes a scoring system for planning, design and construction to “preserve natural resources and encourage low-impact forms of transportation,” says Doug Knuth, project chair with the American Council of Engineering Cos. of Illinois, which developed I-LAST in association with the Illinois Dept. of Transportation and the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association.

The program is the latest in a growing number of industry and government programs seeking to reduce carbon emissions, energy consumption and environmental hazards by incorporating sustainable design and construction practices into road and transportation projects, much as LEED and other programs have done with buildings.

I-LAST places particular emphasis on innovation, including the implementation of bioswales, which remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, and the use of recycled asphalt shingles in pavement, which reduces carbon emissions, conserves landfill space and minimizes project costs, says Jay Behnke, former I-DOT executive and chairman of IRTBA’s Green Council.

Behnke worked with the Illinois Tollway and the state Environmental Protection Agency to address technical and environmental issues associated with the recycled pavement, which received state approval in February 2010.

I-LAST also recognizes more traditional practices, including tree and shrub replacement, wetland restoration and mitigation, acoustical and wildlife barriers, high-efficiency lighting, reduction of stray lighting and local sourcing of materials.

For purposes of scoring, the program divides sustainable practices into eight categories: planning, design, environmental, water quality, transportation, lighting, material and innovation. On-site recycling, for example, scores points in the materials category, while initiatives to minimize earthwork score in the design category. Both the manual and an accompanying construction- practices addendum establish criteria for identifying and implementing measurable practices for self-certification.

In all, projects can achieve a total of 233 points for 153 items, according to Knuth, who says I-LAST planners currently are gathering and evaluating project scores to determine the significance of varying achievements, “such as 75% compliance with program guidelines.”

Several Chicago-area road projects, including a large Interstate interchange project at I-57 and I-294, in south Cook County, have been evaluated, says IDOT regional leader John Fortmann. The New York State Dept. of Transportation has implemented a similar program named GreenLITES, or Green Leadership in Transportation Environmental Sustainability, while the University of Washington is undertaking its “Green Roads” program in collaboration with the Washington Dept. of Transportation.

The programs anticipate the May 2011 launch of a national rating system developed by ACEC, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Public Works Association.

Although the system is modeled after LEED, it provides additional flexibility by accounting for differences in project size and complexity. Like LEED, it offers independent third-party verification while providing a scoring system for environmental, economic and social impacts.

I-LAST is more regional in nature, emphasizing materials and conditions indigenous to Illinois and the greater Midwest, says IRTBA President and CEO Mike Sturino. “Because of differences in climate, topography and natural resources, we’re encouraging groups to consider a regional approach.”