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Central Ohio Sees Itself as ‘Lab’ for Connected Vehicles

At the heart of the Beta District in Central Ohio is the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, a 35-mile “living lab” to test and deploy transportation technology. The corridor was officially unveiled last month.

U.S. Highway 33 is part of the Smart Mobility Corridor and is a 35-mile testbed for transportation technology.
(DriveOhio/Bruce Hull)
Central Ohio continues to reassert itself as a destination for transportation innovation. The region is home to the Beta District, a coordinated network of transportation tech testing and deployment opportunities.

“Those technology and equipment developers in the automotive and manufacturing area are just gravitating [to the region], because they know they [can] test all elements of this technology,” said Terry Emery, city manager for Marysville, a municipality northwest of Columbus with a population of about 25,000.

Marysville, the city of Dublin, the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor and the Transportation Research Center make up the Beta District, which is, in part, an effort by the region to attract transportation tech companies and secure the Columbus area as a leader in developing connected vehicles, intelligent traffic management, electric vehicles and other technologies.

Marysville, which sits in the middle of the Beta District, is home to a large Honda manufacturing facility and has connected vehicle technology embedded in all 31 of its traffic signals. Meanwhile, Dublin, with its 100 gigabit fiber network, has helped to create “an open playground to safely test and deploy technology in real-world scenarios,” said Megan O’Callaghan, deputy city manager and chief finance and development officer for Dublin. O’Callaghan is also a board member on the regional council of governments.

“Within the region we have private sector, government, academia. We have all of those entities working together,” she added.

Threading its way through the Beta District is the 35-mile U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, a “living lab” for connected vehicle technology, with more than 100 roadside units — used for connected vehicle testing and development — already deployed. The ribbon was cut for the corridor back in September.

“Fifty years from now companies and communities will look back on this event in 2021 as the 2.0 moment,” said Luke Stedke, managing director for communications and policy at DriveOhio, a technology division of the Ohio Department of Transportation.

What can’t be overlooked is the role Columbus plays in the region as a sizable population and jobs center. As the recipient of a $50 million Smart City Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Columbus was the home of a five-year project to grow transportation innovation. The project helped grow the adoption of electric vehicles, both among the driving public and the city’s fleet.

Additionally, a new smart parking system was launched in Columbus, along with a mobility-as-a-service app called Pivot that puts various public- and private-sector modes within one app. An autonomous shuttle program was also launched in the city, among other projects. All of these functioned within the newly designed Smart Columbus Operating System.

“We were actively engaged and involved in all of the Smart Columbus activities, and we learned from their experiences, just like they learned from what we had been doing as well,” said O’Callaghan. “What’s good for Dublin is good for Marysville, and good for the entire region.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.