A pilot program here, a testbed there, and suddenly the infrastructure of the future is springing up in communities across the country.

Where does your agency fit in?

While most county and municipal agencies are still working on how to bankroll a connected infrastructure, others have started with funding through U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) programs, trickle-down from state initiatives, tapping private partners from academia and industry, or simply digging it out of existing budgets.

The drive is toward making connected vehicle (CV) and autonomous vehicle (AV) technology a reality nationwide.

As of December 2016, laws regarding AVs had been enacted in nine states--California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia--and the District of Columbia. Arizona and Massachusetts drew up executive orders. No state prohibits AV testing or operations.

On the CV side, in January 2017 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a rule mandating all new light vehicles be equipped with standardized vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications.

The federal government offers ongoing opportunities to apply for funding and take part in national research through pilot programs, testbeds, a Smart City Challenge, and, most recently, designated proving grounds. Click here for more information. The goal is to achieve gains in three areas:

  • Environment: reduce air pollution and boost energy efficiency
  • Mobility: relieve traffic congestion and improve transportation flow
  • Safety: prevent enough crashes to save thousands of lives each year.

Slow down—How does it affect my community?

Connected vehicles will generate real-time intelligence that transportation managers can use not only to address current road problems but also to plan highway and street improvements and allocate resources.

For example, Colorado is banking that improved, predictable traffic flow will have the same impact on road capacity as adding a highway lane without the construction investment

As Colorado DOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt says, “Data is the new asphalt.”

Both CV and AV platforms take cues from sensors incorporated into infrastructure, which means public agencies will need to:

  • Deploy communication technology for services such as smart intersections, end-of-queue alerts, curve warning systems, and work zone management
  • Maintain pavement striping and road signage that will help AVs navigate
  • Accommodate a mix of driver-operated and autonomous vehicles.

The need to test CV and AV equipment and communications technologies also brings opportunities to participate in pilot programs that provide funding in exchange for data on the results. The Florida DOT, for example, is involved in both closed-track and on-the-road testing.

Back up—What do the acronyms mean?

More information about how these systems work can be found here. In short, a connected transportation system lets vehicles exchange data about road conditions and driving parameters with each other and surrounding infrastructure. CV technology also can tie in other road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.

Navigation systems that provide real-time route guidance through GPS are an example of CV functionality that’s well established.

“The connected vehicle concept is about supplying useful information to a driver or a vehicle to help the driver make safer or more informed decisions,” says Suzanne Murtha, senior program manager for Atkins, a global design, engineering, and project management consultancy. “Use of a connected vehicle doesn’t imply that the vehicle is making any choices for the driver.” That’s the job of an autonomous vehicle.

“A fully autonomous vehicle is computer-driven and doesn’t require a human driver,” she says. “Autonomous vehicles don’t need connected vehicle technology to function because they must be able to independently navigate the road network. However, CV technologies provide valuable information about the road ahead. By incorporating CV technology, AVs will be safer, faster, and more efficient.”

The “robot” car may be a rarity for some time, but different levels of automation are being phased in. There’s broad consensus that vehicles with a high level of automation will be commercially available to some buyers within five years, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report. Many vehicles already have some autonomous features, such as cruise control and lane departure warnings.

Turn around—Give a lift to underserved travelers

There’s concern advanced technology may not reach individuals who can’t afford or physical can’t operate a vehicle, have limited access to smartphones and electronic payment methods, or live in neighborhoods where infrastructure upgrades are neglected. As a result, their needs and issues may not feed into the data collection that guides development of those tools.

At the same time, underserved and disadvantaged populations stand to benefit significantly from transit alternatives, such as automated taxis or car-sharing, and AVs that can be driven by disabled persons.

“CVs and AVs hold strong promise to address the transportation needs of environmental justice (EJ) populations, but barriers to access may affect the full realization of the technologies’ benefits,” says U.S. DOT.

Including these communities is a top priority in all agency initiatives. States must consider EJ populations when developing Strategic Highway Safety Plans, making those plans a logical venue for addressing potential EJ concerns related to CV and AV technology.

Let’s get started

The upshot is that state and local transportation managers face the most profound challenge since cars began sharing roads with horse-drawn vehicles. To help you prepare to safely integrate the new with the old, we’ve boiled down the basics in this article and sidebars and then share real-life implementation examples of successful planning and implementation in the following three articles.

Click here to tell us (anonymously) how connected vehicle technology is affecting your public agency.