The construction of new roads, as well as the reconstruction of existing ones, are carried out in accordance with the previously obtained environmental decisions, so that they have the minimum impact on the environment.  Behind this very general statement, one can find much more interesting actions. However, the General Directorate of National Roads and Motorways does not just comply with environmental decisions, but is also looking for other ways to reduce the environmental impact of roads.

Care for the environment starting from the very first lines on the map

When planning the implementation of the road project, at all subsequent stages of the preparatory process, we are constantly mindful of minimizing the environmental impact of the project.  The designers who develop the Right of Way Study - a basic design document to outline a new road investment project - determine the location of the route for a new road taking into account not only regional and local geographical or social conditions, but also the natural environment.

At the next stage, which aims to identify a definite variant of routing the road, that is, during the work on the technical, economic and environmental study, an environmental survey is carried out.  The possible variants of the designed road are analysed taking into account technical, economic, environmental and social aspects. The most favourable variant is indicated and recommended in the application for a decision on environmental conditions. Prior to issue a decision, the Regional Environment Authority (RDOS) is to follow the environmental impact assessment procedure, under which, among other activities, a preliminary report on the environmental impact of the project is verified. When issuing environmental decisions, RDOS shall impose on GDDKiA an obligation to build environment friendly infrastructure, e.g. crossing places for animals, noise barriers or road drainage systems.

The crossing places for animals are not always small culverts under roads or common road facilities such as bridges or flyovers. They also take the form of large structures, the so-called overpasses for large animals, viaducts over highways, much wider than those for ordinary roads. Wide entrances with properly landscaped (with shrubs and stumps) terrain would lead to the facilities, helping the animals to migrate safely to the other side of a highway or motorway.

The noise barriers are most often understood as screens along roads, made in various technologies.  Sometimes, however, they take an unusual form. Like those you can see at the Wrocław A8 Motorway Ring Road, where concrete panels take the form of arches, or in a section of the S8 highway crossing Warsaw, where semi-tunnel screens resembling glass-steel tubes are applied.  And a different example, the section of more than two kilometres of the Southern Warsaw Ring Road within S2 route shall be hidden in a tunnel under Ursynov.

Artificial islands, platforms, replacement habitats, plantings and maintenance thereof

GDDKiA's environmental activities sometimes also take other unusual forms of compensatory measures.
  • GDDKiA's environmental activities sometimes also take other unusual forms of compensatory measures.
  • In the years 2010-2016, as part of the construction of the bridge across the Vistula river near Kwidzyn, natural compensation was provided in the Natura 2000 area of the Lower Vistula Valley. It involved anchoring on the Vistula river two sand-filled barges to create artificial islands, which became the breeding area for common and little terns.
  • Furthermore, during the construction of the Słupsk ring road, artificial spawning sites for lithophilic fish were established on the Glaźna River, which is a tributary of the Słupia River, in the Natura 2000 area of the Słupia Valley.
  • During the construction of the S7 highway in the section Koszwały - Kazimierzowo 14 nesting platforms for birds of prey (fish-eagle and white-tailed eagle) were built. In addition, as part of compensatory measures, in order to increase the feeding area in the identified habitats of the white-tailed eagle, we have restored a dyke to retain water in the intra-forest reservoir.
  • 24 compensatory ponds, populated by all species of lowland amphibians and tailless amphibians, were built as part of the implementation of the S8 between the Wieluń and Łódź Południe interchanges.
  • Along with the construction of the northern roadway of the future A18 motorway in the section between Olszyna and Golnice interchanges, we have planted three thousand seedlings of rowan. This was to strengthen the resident population of the species by enriching and improving the trophic conditions of the biotope for the capercaillie and the black grouse.
  • GDDKiA carried out very extensive compensatory activities in connection with the construction of the A2 motorway in the Świecko - Nowy Tomyśl section. We have restored non-forest natural habitats of meadow vegetation nature in the Natura 2000 areas: "Buczyny Łagowsko-Sulęcińskie" in the Pliszki River valley, "Leniwa Obra Valley" and "Ilanka Valley", with a total area of nearly 30 hectares.

We have also expanded the area of wetland habitats in the Świebodzin Forest Inspectorate by optimizing the hydrological conditions of the forest vegetation groups (restoration of ditches, construction of floodgates), and as part of the protection and preservation of the population of Lipiennik Loesela in the Natura 2000 "Rzepinski Lakes Gully" we have carried out the felling of trees and volunteer plants on peatland.

Furthermore, in the area of Trzciel, we have restored the closed, devastated fish pond and converted it into substitute habitats for the crane (Grus grus, code Natura 2000: A127) and the bittern (Botaurus stellaris, code Natura 2000: A021).  This is one of a number of actions undertaken as part of the natural compensation aimed at making up for losses in the Natura 2000 area "Pszczewskie Lakes and The Obra Valley". The restored body of water is surrounded by a grassy dyke, there are nine grassy islands, five deep areas and relatively vast shallows overgrown with rushes.  At the outlet from the reservoir, there is a floodgate with a overflow in the form of a stone cascade, which, when the reservoir is fully filled, can act as a fishpass, ensuring the migration of aquatic organisms between the reservoir and the Obra River through small watercourses and drainage ditches.

Along with the Niemodlin bypass, currently built to cross the Ścinawa Niemodlinska Valley, which is a habitat of numerous bats, nets up to 4.5 m high shall be installed over a distance of about 720 m along the road.  Their purpose will be to force the bats flying over the road at an altitude that prevents collisions with vehicles. Similar protections shall also appear at the S19 near Siemiatycze in the vicinity of the Natura 2000 area called "Shelters of the Brest Fortified Area".

Our activities have been sometimes spread over many years. During the construction of the Wrocław Motorway Ring Road, we have restored a patch of elm-ash and oak-hornbeam riparian forest as well as an alder-ash tree riparian forest within the area of nearly 7 hectares. In 2009, a new forest was planted in the former irrigation fields along Świniara River, but after four years it was found that the compensation failed and needed to be restored. Almost 16,000 seedlings of trees and shrubs were planted once more. Alas, in 2015, nearly half of the compensatory area was destroyed due to a fire on the irrigation fields.  The following year, plantings were supplemented and complex care of plantings (mowing, hoeing, fire protection, protection against biting of seedlings by rodents) was commissioned. Since then, the forest has been growing and doing very well, and this year we are looking forward to the completion of the compensatory work and transferring the forest to the city of Wroclaw.

Purified rainwater to water forest areas

Our latest environment friendly solution is to use rainwater from carriageway to irrigate forest areas.  GDDKiA has signed an agreement with the General Directorate of State Forests on this matter. Rainwater and snow-melt water shall go into special reservoirs and cleaning facilities. Further, it will be routed through the forest by a ditch system with water raising and filtering facilities. Water quality will be systematically monitored and checked for the presence of 17 substances, including general suspensions, petroleum-based substances, chlorides or lead. During the life cycle of the reservoirs, samples and qualitative tests of water will be systematically taken in order to modify the necessary filtration in time to prevent unwanted substances from polluting the forests.

The aim of these measures is to increase retention capacity and to combat drought in forest ecosystems. Water from reservoirs along the carriageway in the vicinity of forests, may also be useful for firefighting purposes or in the event of natural disasters. The agreement shall only apply to new projects, and the first steps will be taken during the construction of the S19 highway in Lublin province, in the section between the Lubartów North and Lublin Rudnik interchanges.

Until now, a solution with a system of pumps that discharged water over long distances has been used in similar projects. Now, in justified cases, this expensive solution may be replaced with the new one. Should the relevant forest inspectorate consider it viable, the water from carriageway will be used in a closer area, to improve the content of moisture in the forest areas.

Fighting drought on the roadside

One of the activities of the ongoing maintenance of national roads is regular mowing of the roadside.  This way, we provide road safety and efficient drainage system. However, due to long periods without precipitation and ensuing drought, we tend to reduce areas of green belts to be mowed along the national roads. Only places important to road safety and the effective operation of the drainage system are excluded from this policy. The growing vegetation must not limit visibility or obscure road signs. The drainage system, on the other hand, must ensure that water is drained from the roadway efficiently, because road safety directly depends on the issue.

Flower meadows shall replace the so far mowed areas along carriageways. To take a step further and launch a pilot project, we have decided to plant an appropriate species of shrubs in the reserve median between the barriers, which are to act environment friendly by way of absorbing exhaust gases, and at the same time, may replace the anti-glare screen.

Photovoltaics and charging stations for electric vehicles

In the field of ecological solutions, we are also open to the wide use of renewable energy sources, which since 1999 have been used by us, e.g. to power meteorological stations or illuminate road signs at pedestrian crossings. In the near future, we plan to launch pilot projects regarding the wider use of renewable energy sources within carriageways.

We also provide motorists with new charging stations for electric cars, which are located at the motorist service areas (MOP). With increasing interest in electric vehicles, the network of charging stations will be developed and by the end of 2022, two-terminal charging stations should be available at approx. a 100 of MOPs.

Long-lasting surface, reuse of the removed surface material

Innovations in road surfaces may be eco-friendly as well.  In 2016, at the S8 Opacz - Paszków highway (Mazowieckie province) the first so-called "long-lasting surface" was implemented.  Unlike the common one, the long-lasting surface will allow for at least 50 years of operation with the periodic, every 12 - 15 years, repair work, limited to replacement of the abrasive layer only, without interfering with the layers below it. Along with these activities we want to build-in the processed old surface material, the “destruct” as we call it here, which is now treated as waste.

In 2019, we initiated discussions with the then Ministry of the Environment, indicating the urgent need to address the problem of utilisation of the asphalt destruct. We have forwarded a GDDKiA's concept of the draft regulation to the current Ministry of Climate and Environment, and the result of our efforts is a draft regulation making it possible to define specific criteria for cancelling the status of waste regarding the asphalt destruct. Easier recycling of the destruct means lower consumption of natural resources, reduced transport of aggregates with trucks, less pollution, noise and greater road safety. It may also reduce dust emissions from the extraction and transport of aggregates.  It is also a step towards a circular economy by utilising previously built-in materials. Owing to utilisation of the destruct, over PLN 400 million would be saved in a few years' time.

Environmentally friendly roads is not only a slogan, it means also actions in various areas related to the implementation of road projects.  Actions to be taken at the very beginning, when planning the right of way for the future road, and expanded after the environmental impact report is ready. When a road construction begins, the corresponding environmental infrastructure is being developed as well.  Compensatory actions begin even before the machines enter the construction site, to be finished a few years after the road project completion. Effects thereof are to serve not only us, but also future generations.

Author: General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways