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Rocky Mountain High Tech Transportation

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In November 2016, while on the campaign trail, the country’s current President-elect indicated that his administration intended to spend $1 trillion over the next ten years on our nation’s infrastructure–roads, bridges, water, wastewater, light rail, and much more. With its RoadX program, however, Colorado, is well ahead of the curve when it comes to recognizing future infrastructure requirements.

The population of Colorado is exploding. The state has undergone 50 percent growth in the last two decades and expects to grow an additional 50 percent in the next 20 years. And that’s not all. The state also has some of the most congested metropolitan roadways in the U.S., major expenses in road maintenance of around $254 million in 2016, and north of $13 billion in annual crash costs––all exacerbated by an annual funding gap of $1 billion.

In fewer than ten years, it's expected that up to four million vehicles in Colorado will be talking to each other and to the roadway infrastructure. 

Although not timid about new highway construction, the state knew that it could not simply build its way out of congestion. New traffic lanes would not necessarily solve the issue that in 2015 caused 546 fatalities in traffic accidents and more than 3,000 seriously injuries. All crashes in 2014 alone cost $13.27 billion.

Not content to sit back and admire the Rockies, Colorado knew it was time to make a move. So the state turned to experts in the private sector for their expertise, focusing on private industry to pursue innovative ideas and tap into their expertise.

A New Day, A New Way

In 2016, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is committing $20 million from its current operating budget to begin RoadX, the state’s new transportation improvement program that will use technology for apps deploying real time data, connecting vehicles to allow drivers to speak with each other, implementing smarter trucking, deploying smarter infrastructure systems, and allowing infrastructure components like guardrails to communicate with drivers.

In a connected transportation system, vehicles “talk” and share data with each other–using advanced connected technology platforms to link cellular, radio, and roadway sensor data and feed it back to vehicles in seconds––helping drivers or even automated driver-assist systems make the best driving decisions. Also, the infrastructure talks to vehicles, telling them if a sharp curve or construction zone is coming up or warning them about low visibility, multi-vehicle pileups, or sun glare. 

A connected transportation system accelerates the advancement of autonomous vehicles by enabling the sharing of data and warnings instantaneously from connected vehicles, augmenting information collected from sensors and cameras.

Focusing first on I-70, one of the nation’s most challenging corridors, the Centennial State has already begun to set several RoadX projects in motion.

With the Here project on I-70, the state is implementing significant software and traffic-sensor upgrades to its aging highway traffic management. For example, a connected car equipped with sensor technology detects traffic incidents and road conditions. This information is then sent via the cellular network to a cloud location, which analyzes, verifies, and validates the data with additional location information.

The results are then distributed to nearby vehicles, warning drivers immediately. Simultaneously, the results are sent to a traffic management center which can react to upcoming situations in real time––ensuring safe and efficient driving. All of this happens in mere seconds.

Smart 25 on I-25 similarly involves the installation of roadway sensors to identify exactly how many vehicles are in each lane and how quickly they are traveling. This information is sent to a system that looks at the entire corridor and immediately communicates with ramp meters about how quickly to allow vehicles to enter the highway safely and maintain a consistent speed throughout the trip, rather than enter the highway and hit a bottleneck.

Under good conditions, a single highway operating at 50 to 60 mph can move through about 1,800 vehicles per hour. With too many vehicles, however, speeds drop to 15 to 20 mph and throughput plummets to between 800 and 900 vehicles per hour. Smart 25 is expected to maximize vehicle throughput on Colorado’s existing highways––improving trip reliability, cutting travel times, reducing crashes, and generally creating more efficient travel.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Colorado Energy Office, and RoadX are also partnering to develop a map of proposed electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state as well as inductive charging in roadways to also support electric vehicles.

And if that wasn’t enough, CDOT is partnering with Panasonic to build an ecosystem for connected transportation where smart vehicles, self-driving vehicles, and infrastructure share instantaneous data and information about road and safety conditions, all designed to reduce crashes by 80 percent, quadruple the highway capacity, and improve travel time dramatically.

Other smart innovations include:

  • Smart truck parking to reduce wear on Colorado highways and reduce pollution.

  • A 120-mile project to demonstrate the world’s first commercial delivery by a self-driving truck.

  • Improved reflectivity and durability of roadway pavement markings throughout major corridors in the state, allowing vehicles to better use these markings for guidance and lane designations.

Of the 546 Coloradans who die in road accidents every year, 12 percent of them are bicyclists and pedestrians. To address the unique safety needs of bicyclists and pedestrians, CDOT has now launched the RoadX Bicycle and Pedestrian Challenge. Open to anyone and in partnership with the Colorado Innovation Network (COIN)’s Imagine Colorado, the RoadX Bicycle and Pedestrian Challenge engages entrepreneurs and ideators in the pursuit of technology-driven safety solutions.

The $500,000 RoadX Bicycle and Pedestrian Challenge is asking entrepreneurs, ideators, and communities to develop inventive technological solutions to protect bicyclists and pedestrians in Colorado. The RoadX Bicycle and Pedestrian Challenge consists of two tracks designed to not only solicit great ideas, but also actionable concepts. 

Track One—Idea-thon. Encourages participants to submit a groundbreaking technological idea to improve bicycling and pedestrian safety. Up to five winners will be chosen with a prize of $10,000 each. 

Track Two—Do-athon. Prompts Coloradans to enter a unique and implementable idea and deploy the technology within eight months. Up to five finalists will be chosen and each will receive $75,000 to build proof of concept. The team that deploys the best working technology over eight months will receive $150,000 to continue the program. The runner up will receive $50,000 and third place will receive $25,000. 

All entries must be submitted through Imagine Colorado. All proposals are due February 27, 2017. Finalists will be selected on March 31, 2017. 

And the Future Holds… 

In fewer than ten years, it's expected that up to four million vehicles in Colorado will be talking to each other and to the roadway infrastructure. In addition, this data has the potential to help pinpoint where investments need to be made in road planning and safety as well as optimizing winter maintenance. CDOT and its partners are poised to build a connected-transportation system and data platform that promises to be the most replicable and impactful of its kind in the U.S.


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