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Columbus, Ohio, Ups the Stakes with $90 Million Addition to Smart City Challenge

Businesses in central Ohio would pitch in another $90 million if the city won the Smart City Challenge.

If Columbus, Ohio, wins the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, it will receive about triple the amount of money the federal government is promising to dole out to test high-tech mobility solutions.

That’s because the city has received word from the Columbus Partnership, a group of local businesses, that it will provide an additional $90 million to Columbus should it win the DOT’s $40 million, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Another $10 million is available from the investment firm Vulcan for electric vehicle projects, along with a bevy of free technology and services from companies ranging from Alphabet to Mobileye.

Columbus is one of seven finalists for the prize, and the announcement comes just after Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx swung through Columbus on a tour of all seven cities. The DOT expects to announce the winner of the Smart City Challenge in June.

Representatives of most of the cities have spoken about their ability to stretch the $50 million prize by leveraging partnerships with local entities, but Columbus is the first to announce a massive effort to raise money to augment the prize.

Columbus' plan for the money involves several different systems the city would build to test new technologies, connect underserved people to opportunity and lay the groundwork for more efficient transportation. Among the ideas are:

  • Developing “smart corridors” with infrastructure that can connect with vehicles, especially transit. This could allow for better data collection, better real-time coordination of transit and signal prioritization to speed transit through.
  • Coming up with apps that pull together information about infrastructure and connect it with real-time data to efficiently route trucks and other logistics vehicles and avoid traffic.
  • Working to bridge the “payment gap” between citizens who use cash and mobility services like Uber and Lyft, which rely on digital payment.
  • Providing autonomous shuttles to serve riders in specific areas of town.
  • Working electric vehicles into the city’s smart grid development plans.
  • Building smartphone applications with information on parking availability, transit options for visitors and more.
Randy Bowman, assistant director of the Columbus Department of Development, said that the goal would be to make Columbus a center of innovation for transportation systems that could develop lessons to be spread throughout the country. Columbus is nearby several large population centers — not the least of which include Kansas City, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati — and he said the city would want to welcome in people looking to develop better transportation systems elsewhere.

“We believe that our approach will demonstrate how you can adopt our technology,” Bowman said.

The other finalists in the Smart City Challenge are Pittsburgh; Kansas City, Mo.; Denver; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco.


Smart Cities
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.

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