U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration



Why is sustainability important in pavement systems?

Sustainability is often described as being made up of the three components of environmental, social, and economic needs, collectively referred to as the "triple-bottom line". The word "sustainable" in the context of pavements refers to system characteristics that encompasses a pavements ability to:

  • Achieve the engineering goals for which it was constructed
  • Preserve and restore surrounding ecosystems
  • Use financial, human, and environmental resources economically
  • Meet basic human needs such as health, safety, equity, employment, comfort, and happiness

Since sustainability is a broad systems characteristic encompassing virtually every impact a system has, most pavement features and qualities can be argued to support sustainability goals in one way or another. However, it is unlikely that all such features can be included in a pavement, either because some features support one sustainability objective but are in opposition to another, or because some features are mutually exclusive. It is necessary to consider the trade-offs of the available options within the context of sustainability in order to make the best choice. Tools are available to assess pavement sustainability that also help decision makers understand the trade-offs and identify unintended consequences.

Why do Roads Matter?

The roadway network is not only important to the nation's overall economic vitality by providing for the movement of freight and commodities, but it also provides societal benefits as well (e.g., access to schools, services, and work; leisure travel; and general mobility). Pavements are an integral part of this roadway network. Pavements provide a smooth and durable all-weather traveling surface that benefits a range of vehicles (cars, trucks, buses, bicycles) and users (commuters, commercial motor carriers, delivery and service providers, local users, leisure travelers).

Some key facts (sources: Sustainable Pavements Reference Document and Statista):

  • 4 million miles of roads in the U.S. of which 2.65 million are paved
  • Projected value of U.S. highways and street construction in 2021: $97.6 billion
  • Nearly 3 trillion vehicle-miles traveled each year
  • Approximately 8.6 million people employed in the highway construction industry

City traffic

What are the Benefits of Being More Sustainable?

Opportunities for improving the pavement sustainability < exist throughout the pavement life cycle and have the potential to deliver tremendous economic, environmental, and social benefits. Listed below are just a few examples of the benefits of being more sustainable with regard to the three pillars of sustainability.


  • Reduced pavement life-cycle costs


  • Reduced energy use
  • Reduced noise emissions
  • Improved air quality
  • Improved water quality


  • Improved safety
  • Improved ride quality
  • Resource conservation
  • Reduced landfill space
Photo Credit: Steve Muench
Updated: 04/09/2018
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000