(TNS) — WASHINGTON, D.C. — Over its roughly 50 years of operation, the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio, has researched seat belts, air-bags and anti-lock brakes, probed automotive defects and developed numerous federal motor vehicle safety standards.
The 4,500 acre research institution that calls itself "the largest independent vehicle testing facility and proving grounds in the U.S." was shocked not to have been listed as one of ten U.S. Department of Transportation official testing sites for automated vehicle technology during the Obama administration's final days.
On Wednesday, representatives of the facility traveled to Washington with a group of state legislators to make their case for inclusion in the transportation department's "Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds" program, which could make it eligible for millions of dollars in federal grants.
"Certainly, as we go forward, we'd be interested in doing that work," said the facility's CEO, Brett Roubinek, noting that it's tested automated vehicle technologies since shortly after it opened and that it broke ground last week on a new 540 acre "Smart Center" exclusively dedicated to that purpose.
They joined a group of Congress members who sent a letter to the Department of Transportation requesting the change. The letter noted that the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 set aside $20 million for facilities with the designation. If the facility isn't included, the letter argued for abandonment of the designation.
"Given the unfairness of the site selection and the need to create the most effective framework for testing autonomous vehicles, the department might be better served by eliminating this arbitrary constraint and basing its decisions on solid criteria," said the letter spearheaded by Champaign County GOP Rep. Jim Jordan.
Holmes County GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said it made no sense for Ohio's facility to be excluded from the program.
"The process is broken," he said.
According to Jordan, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had already said she doesn't understand why there's a facilities list, and expressed the opinion that research dollars should simply go to the best facilities.
"I think the secretary is already where we're at," said Jordan. "We just want to remind her."
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