Aerial view of a freeway ramp
5 min

How to create value on land around motorways?

The areas skirting highways and motorways once served a purpose, but many of them have since fallen into neglect. Now, however, they can be used to spur sustainable development in communities – to produce renewable energy or grow organic produce, say. Here’s more about motorway-side land and its new life. 

 VINCI Autoroutes operates more than 4,400 km of roadways, which have over 28,000 hectares of green spaces alongside them. These spaces have not served any particular purpose so far, and the company wants to use them to foster sustainable development in local areas. 

Producing renewable energy alongside motorways

Photovoltaic installedcapacity (in GW)

Rooftops are not the only places where you can fit solar panels. Quite the opposite, actually: in a 2019 paper, the French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe) reports that ground-mounted solar panels are slowly but surely overtaking roof-mounted ones.

These farms are appearing in spots that have already been sealed – car parks, closed-down factories and contaminated plots, for example. According to Ademe estimates, the potential in these areas amounts to 53 GW (4 GW in car parks and 49 GW in unused areas, in many cases flanking motorways). 

This is good news for plans to build renewable energy production capacity without encroaching on farmland. VINCI Autoroutes has pledged to look into the potential for renewable energy production on the land available in its network. Besides solar farms, the goal is also to assess feasibility of a variety of other energy-related projects. This is one of the aims in the agreement signed by VINCI Autoroutes and the FNSEA (French farmer union federation).

Methanizer operation

Setting up methane digesters in motorway-side areas and enabling farmers to use them would open the door to turning organic waste from agricultural operations into biogas that can be fed directly into a city’s gas network. 

Motorway-side areas for market gardening and jobs 

What if motorway-side plots could also serve an economic, ecological and social purpose? Thimothée Huck believes they can and is showing it, backed by VINCI Autoroutes and the Fondation VINCI pour la Cité! They set up Jardins de la Voie Romaine, a non-profit, together in 2010. It now operates four market gardens alongside the A19 – Jardin Maraicher du Beaunois, Roseraie de Morailles, Domaine de Flotin and Relais des Trois Écluses – staffed by 22 permanent employees and 60 former job seekers on integration paths. Most of the latter were on the outer fringes of the job market and were hired to grow and distribute fruit and vegetables and run local produce stalls, the microbrewery or cafés in these four spots in a class by themselves.

120 tonnes

of organic vegetables: the yearly output from the Beaunois market garden, one of the four operations skirting the A19.

Besides growing produce, Jardins de la Voie Romaine provides a path back into society. It has already taken in about 300 people in difficult circumstances and 75% have moved on to new jobs or training paths, (25 points more than the French average). One of them, Angélique (33) was out of work after maternity leave, started working in the Beaunois market garden, trained as an accountant and was hired on a permanent contract by the non-profit.

Over there, I quickly regained my self-confidence and trust in others. I learnt about the seasons, vegetables and cooking. The Jardins are a breath of fresh air. And then I was able to work on a professional project; something I had always dreamt of.

Angélique, employee at Jardins de la voie romaine