U.S. DOT Invests $7.5M in Ohio Self-Driving Car Research

This summer, the Transportation Research Center unveiled the first phase of its $45 million Smart Mobility Advanced Research Test Center, a new test bed that sits on 540 acres in Logan County.

by Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch / September 11, 2019

(TNS) — Ohio got a federal infusion Tursday for testing self-driving vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $7.5 million grant to the Ohio Department of Transportation and a group of other organizations, including the Transportation Research Center, to develop a statewide demonstration plan to test self-driving vehicles.

"We've been pushing hard for this grant," U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a conference call with reporters. "This is something we're experts in in Ohio and now we'll be at the center of developing it."

This summer, the TRC unveiled the first phase of its $45 million Smart Mobility Advanced Research Test Center, a new test bed that sits on 540 acres in the sprawling East Liberty campus in Logan County.

It already has a six-lane signaled intersection, with legs long enough for passenger vehicles and heavy trucks to speed up for testing. It is expected to add a simulated urban area with mockups of neighborhood streets and roundabouts and a 10,000-square-foot control building with office space for researchers and space for vehicle preparations before the end of the year.

The SMARTCenter is set up to test automated vehicle technology, such as crash avoidance systems built into vehicles.

Ohio State University provided $25 million for the project, and the state gave another $20 million through JobsOhio and the Ohio Department of Transportation. Federal funds were awarded to ODOT and a consortium that inludes TRC, Ohio State and DriveOhio, but the University of Cincinnati along with the cities of Youngstown and Athens will have a role in developing a statewide demonstration plan for the technology.

It's unclear how the money will be distributed for that demonstration.

Ohio has been seeking federal money for the SMARTCenter since at least 2017, when it didn't make the cut. Lawmakers and other state officials have been pushing for the funding ever since, though. In March, Ohio's entire Congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to support the grant application.

The TRC has been the site of several federal visitors, including Chao in 2017, and Sen. Rob Portman in late August. It cut the ribbon on the SMARTCenter in July with a group of dignitaries.

Dispatch reporter Marty Schladen contributed to this story

©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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