(TNS) -- Gov. John Kasich bristles — becomes a tad defensive, in fact — when the term “Rust Belt” is applied to Ohio.
Standing in Dublin, in front of a “driverless” tractor-trailer and the section of Route 33 it soon traversed, Kasich announced a planned $15 million state investment on Wednesday to create a "smart mobility corridor.”
It’s another high-tech example of Ohio diversifying its economy and striving to create better jobs suited for the 21st century.
The governor said existing funds will pay for the transformation of a 35-mile section of Route 33 from Dublin to East Liberty into “an ideal proving ground” for transportation technology and innovation.
The Department of Transportation will use the money beginning in May to embed high-capacity fiber-optic cable and wireless sensors along the auto-industry-rich corridor to permit testing and research of smart-transportation technology such as self-driving vehicles.
“Some of the world’s foremost automotive researchers are working here in Ohio, at both ends of this corridor, and this project provides them with the perfect location and state-of-the-art infrastructure for safely testing autonomous and connected-vehicle technologies,” Kasich said in the parking lot of OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital.
“They call us the Rust Belt? They’re following us,” Kasich said. “It’s cool.”
Partners in the project include Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research near East Liberty, Honda R&D Americas, Union County and the cities of Dublin and Marysville. The local governments matched a $6 million federal grant to expand their fiber-optic networks to reach Route 33 and install highway sensors.
The “smart mobility corridor” also will factor into Columbus’ “Smart City” initiative to make it an intelligent-transportation hub, spurred by a $40 million federal grant and $90 million private-sector commitment.
Transportation Director Jerry Wray said the investment would position Ohio to work with transportation innovation companies and pocket jobs and a better highway system along the way. The system will allow autonomous vehicles to communicate with each other and even signal ODOT if their tires lose traction upon encountering icy roads.
A driverless semi owned by OTTO, an offshoot of San Francisco-based ride-sharing service Uber, has been making test runs along Rt. 33 and also will hit the Ohio Turnpike.
Walter Martin, 47, of San Franciso, describes himself as a “seat sitter” and “non-driver.” He sits behind the wheel of the high-tech rig ready to take over control from the computers if an engineer in the back of the cab detects the software is taking the truck where it should not go. He rarely has to hit a big red button to assume manual control, he said.
©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.