Highway of Tomorrow

Ohio Department of Transportation

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A bold new transportation project is underway in Ohio. The Department of Transportation is investing $15 million, while a USDOT ATCMTD grant is adding $6 million, and local and private contributions $3.5 million – all toward the goal of advanced highway technology to create a Smart Mobility Corridor.
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This highway of tomorrow will stretch 35 miles along central Ohio’s U.S. Route 33 and provide a fiber optic data connection between the Transportation Research Center (TRC) near East Liberty, Ohio, and the State of Ohio Super Computing Center in Columbus. Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Chief Engineer Jim Barna, Deputy Director of Strategic Initiatives and Programs Andrew Bremer, and Press Secretary Matt Bruning filled us in on the details.

The next generation project will provide high-speed, low latency connectivity for Road Side Units (RSUs), transforming the highway into an automated and connected vehicle proving ground. In addition, the Smart Mobility Corridor will connect several public institutions with a reliable, high-speed data connection and will be a catalyst for local economic development.

What makes a road smart?
The US-33 Smart Mobility Corridor will be outfitted with fiber optic cable that will directly connect a Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) system to the TRC, as well as to ODOT’s Traffic Management Center (TMC). This technology will give vehicles that have DSRC-enabled technology the ability to communicate data directly to the infrastructure and to researchers.

Many public vehicles — such as roadway maintenance trucks, school buses and first responder vehicles —that do not already have DSRC-ready technology will be outfitted with On Board Units (OBUs) to allow communication to and from the vehicle. It is anticipated that private volunteers will be sought for installing OBUs.

The Smart Mobility Corridor will collect a wide range of data from these vehicles, including speed, trajectory, wheel adhesion, vehicle location, and other relevant measurements. This will allow infrastructure owners to monitor events on the road as they unfold, in real time. Armed with this wealth of information, these infrastructure owners will be able to manage the roadway better. Researchers will also take advantage of the program. Information regarding everything from traffic and adverse weather conditions to lane departure will enable these experts to monitor the performance of automated and connected vehicle technology.

Drivers will benefit from the smart technology as well. Applications will be developed that will allow anyone using the Smart Mobility Corridor to access vital information regarding road conditions and to receive messages from ODOT’s TMC. From real-time information on accidents and weather conditions to black ice notifications, this information has the potential to save lives as well as simplify virtually any road trip.

Ohio’s US-33 is an ideal place to experiment with this game-changing technology. “The US-33 corridor is Central Ohio’s most visible location for automobile manufacturing, testing, and deployment,” Mr. Bruning says. “The corridor is home to one vehicle OEM (Honda), many auto parts suppliers, and home to the largest independent vehicle proving ground, the 4,500 acre Transportation Research Center (TRC).”

Also important, the route contains a variety of urban, suburban, and rural service areas. US-33 is a four-lane divided freeway that sees between 20,000 and 70,000 vehicles each day. The corridor connects Dublin, a major suburban city, with Marysville, a smaller, mid-sized city.

In addition, US-33 takes advantage of Ohio’s varied weather, which ranges from ice and snow to clear, pleasant driving conditions.

Automated driving 101
Why is Ohio—and the rest of the country—working so hard to implement technological solutions that increase connectivity and promote automated driving? “The most notable advantage of automated driving is the safety aspect,” Mr. Bruning says. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error—and that automated vehicle technologies could help eliminate or mitigate nearly 80 percent of those accidents.

In addition to increasing safety, automated driving could take a lot of the hassle out of road trips. For instance, the information that smart roads like the Smart Mobility Corridor provide could mitigate traffic jams caused by bad weather, deficient roadway conditions, or other unforeseen circumstances.

Furthermore, the shipping and logistics industry can expect a boost. “The logistics industry will benefit from advanced traffic analytics and route planning while the safety of our shipping industry will also increase,” Mr. Bremer says.

How will the Smart Mobility Corridor project advance automated driving overall? “Not all of the benefits can be known at this time, but it is anticipated that this corridor will enable researchers to improve automated and connected vehicle systems in a real-world environment in mixed traffic,” Mr. Barna says. “Projects occurring with the Columbus Smart City Challenge, including automated and connected transportation systems, will be enhanced with the US-33 Smart Mobility Corridor, creating a region of smart transportation innovation.” When it is implemented, this “Smart City” will include a self-contained testing area for automated and connected vehicles with an indoor all-weather testing facility.

Challenges
What are the major barriers to constructing smart roads? “The cost of the technology involved is a major factor in constructing the US-33 Smart Mobility Corridor,” Mr. Barna says. “However, strong partnerships with USDOT, the local governments of Union and Logan Counties and the cities of Dublin and Marysville, and the research community are working together to make the US-33 corridor a reality. All partners involved recognize the need to solve the real-world challenges of traffic fatalities and injuries, traffic congestion, and improving automated driving systems.”

There is also the issue of privacy. Information must be gathered from private vehicles, which could compromise drivers’ rights to confidentiality. “Systems developers must ensure that this data is able to be used for its intended purpose so as to not put the traveling public at risk.”

In order to make smart roads a nationwide phenomenon, certain nationwide standards will have to be developed. “Creating the communication and deployment standards for automated and connected vehicle deployment will certainly be challenging,” Mr. Bremer says. The ever-changing nature of technology creates extra complications. “While enough information exists today that implementation of technology and real benefits can be derived from it, communication standards and other automated vehicle technologies are constantly evolving.”

Mutliple stakeholders will need to work together to get America’s smart roads up and running. “Regional collaboration is essential for implementing automated and connected vehicle technologies,” Mr. Bremer says. “Questions of roadway jurisdiction will need to be reconciled with the entities involved in upgrading the infrastructure with Road Side Units and the information collected, processed, and sent out to the traveling public. In other words, one set of standards for data processing will need to be in place, from local city streets to county roads.”

There are certainly challenges to implementation, but it is only a matter of time before smart roads and automated cars become commonplace. “Automated vehicle technology will certainly evolve and become standard in more and more vehicles as systems become more reliable. Routine aspects of the driving experience may be ceded to more automated systems as technology improves, much like a driving instructor being able to steer-clear or brake when detecting an unsafe situation,” Mr. Barna says.

These advances will not happen overnight, of course. “Wide-spread use may take time as vehicles themselves are cycled out of the driving fleet and newer models purchased, but the inclusion and acceptance of these systems will increase,” Mr. Barna says. Ohio’s highway of tomorrow will play a vital role in bringing smart driving technology to the forefront. “The US-33 Smart Mobility Corridor will certainly help with the further development and public acceptance of these systems as the technology is proven and the benefits realized over time.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 19, 2019, 5:37 PM EST