(TNS) -- AKRON, Ohio -- Behind the orange barrels, as the Innerbelt expressway is removed, the city is laying the groundwork for smart technology that will transmit Wi-Fi and allow vehicles to communicate with the road.
Ohio and Akron officials on Monday touted the infrastructure improvements at a news conference Monday that focused on developing the city's workforce, attracting businesses and partnering with other government agencies.
The city has partnered with ODOT, the Ohio Public Works Commission, Akron Metropolitan Transportation Study, the Federal Highway Administration and others, said City Engineer Jim Hewitt.
"Without their assistance you would not see the massive amount of construction taking place around Akron today," Hewitt said.
Ohio Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor told attendees about a recent visit to Ohio Transportation Research Center, where research is ongoing to create roads that communicate to enable vehicles to speed up or slow down.
"We anticipate that accidents will be lessened and will potentially stop in the future," Taylor said.
Akron is including the technology in several projects -- decommissioning the Innerbelt, converting Cedar and Exchange streets to two-way and completing the Main Street promenade. All will incorporate underground conduits and fiber optic cables to support a future smart roads system and transmit Wi-Fi via street lights and other pedestals along the roadway.
The city looks for opportunities to include that technology, which is supported by ODOT, said Mayor Dan Horrigan.
"It's the smart thing to do," Horrigan said. "That sort of transportation network helps companies make decisions about where they are locating and what's the quality of life in and around the city. Plus, they help pay for it."
If voters approve the income tax increase in November, the money would help would support those kinds of improvements.
The city also is trying new paving technology. This fall, from Perkins Street to Route 8, a ground-tire, rubber-asphalt mix will be used to pave the road.
"The goal is to keep tires out of landfills, be comparable in cost to traditional pavement and perform better than traditional pavement in our climate," Hewitt said.
In addition to adding innovative technologies, the city is opening 31 acres of the Innerbelt -- thus reconnecting the Oak Park neighborhood with the city - which is expected to bring new business opportunities in housing, retail and public spaces.
"Infrastructure projects like this project keep the economy growing in two important ways," Taylor said. "They create jobs immediately and also are powerful drivers of future private sector development. When businesses spend money it means jobs."
To help further spur economic development, the state this year will spend $260 million on 19 highway projects in Summit County, and over the next five years will spend $500 million to improve interstate and state route access, Taylor said.
To boost efficiency, the city paired complementary projects, Horrigan said.
Akron Waterways Renewed!, the city's $1.4 billion sewer project, was timed to take place during removal of the Innerbelt to save on construction and engineering costs.
The city also plans to work simultaneously on the Main Street Promenade and the State Street Bridge, which runs between Water Street and Main Street downtown. Last year, the city received a $5 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to improve Main Street with sidewalk repairs, on-street parking, dedicated bike lanes, a roundabout, new signage and green infrastructure. It was awarded $7.5 million from the federal government to replace the State Street Bridge.
Such infrastructure improvements are hoped to draw business to Akron.
"They provide us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to market us as a great destination for existing business who would like to expand, other business who would like to relocate and, I think more importantly, entrepreneurs who eventually want to take that risk," Horrigan said.
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