The Missouri DOT's experimental use of soy-based paint is good news to environmentalists, as well as the state's soybean farmers. Ranked seventh in the country in soybean production, the Show-Me State produced more than 194 million bushels (valued at $1.2 billion) last year. Photos: MoDOT

Everything's gone green, it seems, and public works is no exception.

From installing compact fluorescent lights in street fixtures to recycled-rubber asphalt in pavement, infrastructure managers are reacting to the push to implement more environmentally minded practices.

Known for its progressive attitude toward early adoption, the Missouri DOT(MoDOT) is trying to green up the state's roadways by testing out soy- (instead of water-) based striping paint. After Kansas City-based paint distributor Cook Composites and Polymers (CCP) approached the agency with the idea, MoDOT partnered with the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council to test the paint, which was developed by Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc.

In October, crews placed 12-foot test strips of four different types of soy-based paint, running from the shoulder to the center stripe on Route 63 just north of Jefferson City. In the coming months, MoDOT personnel will keep an eye on the stripes to see how they hold up under traffic.

The yearlong project will take nothing from MoDOT's coffers. The paints were provided by CCP and Diamond Vogel, a manufacturer out of Orange City, Iowa. Some funding came from the state's soybean checkoff program, which takes a percentage of farmers' gross sales to research and promote new uses for the crop.

So far, the stripes are holding up admirably. However, the true test will arrive as the mercury drops, the flakes fall, and the pavement is subjected to an onslaught of snow, ice, and subzero temperatures. MoDOT's tough winter-fighting chemicals and equipment will add to the trial.

“Snowplows are the Achilles heel of any highway paint,” says Todd Bennett, MoDOT chemical laboratory director. “As we monitor the wear and tear of the paint, we'll be looking to see how durable it is in winter weather.”

The newly formulated paint stripes are the latest in a line of MoDOT experiments and innovations. Last year, it became the first government agency in the country to try out diesel-electric bucket trucks, which are used to lift highway maintenance workers to fix traffic signals, install signs, or replace street lights. The 18-month pilot program—taking place in Joplin, Kansas City, and St. Louis—is comparing the trucks' performance, reliability, and costs to those of conventional trucks. If the results match MoDOT expectations of $3000 in savings annually per vehicle, the agency will have a big incentive to replace the more than 100 conventional bucket trucks its fleet currently holds.

If the striping test passes Mother Nature's trials this winter, MoDOT could start replacing more of the 1.5 million gallons of highway paint it places each year with the soy-based alternative. While the soy paint carries a slightly premium price, the change will be good news to the state's soybean farmers—and to tree-huggers everywhere.