How the next generation of roadways is being developed here in Ohio
A road is a simple thing: a few layers of pavement, some striping and maybe a few lights and you’re ready to go, right? Not so fast. In 2020, roadways are becoming more important than ever, and they’re changing rapidly as technology advances. Soon, the majority of vehicles on the road will be enabled with smart features that can provide data, operate more efficiently and improve safety across the country. But in order to put that tech into every road, we have to start learning somewhere. And because technology is in our DNA, Ohio is the place to start. DriveOhio, the state’s center for smart mobility, is in the midst of multiple major projects that could have long-term effects on the Ohio economy and the way transportation tech develops in the country.
“There’s a paradigm shift going on right now in the transportation industry,” said Luke Stedke, managing director of communications and policy for DriveOhio. “Legacy companies are changing the way they do business and startups are entering the market. A lot of those startups can be anywhere; if COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that collaborative work can continue from across the country. So to have this infrastructure in place for companies to partner with us, we think we’re laying the groundwork for the future of jobs in Ohio.”
Three major programs highlight Ohio’s forward thinking in transportation. Since 2016, 35 miles of fiber optic cable along state Route 33 between Dublin and Marysville has served as a real-world test ground for autonomous and connected vehicles, with roadside sensors that link researchers and traffic monitors with data from the vehicles. The state is also in the planning stages of deploying automated transportation solutions focused on Ohio’s rural roads and highways in southeast Ohio thanks to a U.S. Department of Transportation grant of $7.5 million. Data from that project will be shared among state agencies and a variety of universities. Finally, the state was recently awarded $4.4 million in federal funding to establish a Truck Automation Corridor that stretches along Interstate 70 into Indiana.
Stedke and DriveOhio see these projects as beneficial to the state’s economy, but they’re also a chance to showcase Ohio’s spirit of innovation and willingness to build partnerships.
“We have this amazing environment of innovation,” said Stedke. “Whether it’s the Transportation Research Center on the ground, the Air Force Research Facility in the air, NASA’s Glenn Research Center, or our great universities, we have a large group of institutions and innovators in the state of Ohio that’s second to none. We want to tell everybody about it.”
In the early stage of developing smart corridor tech, one of DriveOhio’s highest priorities is to bring private businesses into the fold rather than keeping the project exclusively among government entities. Developing the relationships between the organizations that will use the tech and the governing bodies that help provide the infrastructure will be key to success, Stedke says.
“If this technology is going to be deployed, it’s going to be private industry using this because it’s an economic advantage for them,” he said. “So it’s about infrastructure owners, freight operators and the technology that needs to come together. All three perspectives need to be brought to the table to find a solution that’s good for everybody, because we’re trying to learn. When you look at the communities and companies that have been successful at this, a lot of it is establishing trust and working relationships — we want to be part of that. These companies and industries are going to locate where they have good relationships and feel like they’re part of the process.”
By developing cutting-edge technology and providing the infrastructure private companies need, Ohio stands at the forefront of the next generation of transportation tech. And for DriveOhio, that means good news for everything from job creation and retention to ensuring that Ohio is considered among the country’s most innovative states.
“From Ohio’s perspective, we have two goals: we want to use this technology to make the transportation of people and goods safer on our roadways and we also want the development of these systems and the jobs of the future to take place here in Ohio. Part of our mantra is that we want companies to come here to test and then we want them to stay here to grow.