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Ohio Eyes New Connected Vehicle Test, One of Several in U.S.

The largest city in Ohio — Columbus, its capital city — is already setting up its own connected vehicle project. Now the state is looking to set up its own pilot test in a smaller city northwest of Columbus.

A connected vehicle project in Ohio will join other similar explorations of sensor and related technologies that allow vehicles to interact with each other and infrastructure, in the aim of growing safety and traffic management in a space becoming more crowded with vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

The Ohio Department of Transportation, in partnership with Honda, is looking to the city of Marysville, just to the northwest of Columbus, as a test site to outfit more than two dozen traffic signals and some 1,200 vehicles with connected vehicle technologies to both better monitor and manage traffic flow, as well as communicate with drivers about real-time events related to pedestrians, cyclists or other vehicles.

“So basically, the signals are reading all these inputs around the intersection: pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles, emergency vehicles. And they’re providing information to the vehicles,” explained Jim Barna, executive director of DriveOhio, an innovation and technology division within Ohio DOT. “So where you may have blind spots, like around a corner, on a crosswalk, or if you’re not recognizing that there’s a red light approaching, that signal will provide that information, in ample time for that driver to make a decision.”

Just down the road, transportation officials in Columbus are involved with launching a connected vehicle pilot that will connect up to 1,800 private and public vehicles as well as upgrade some 113 signalized intersections with technology to better manage traffic as well as improve safety. That project, known as the Connected Vehicle Environment, is expected to go live in July 2020. It falls under a host of smart city and smart transportation projects operated under the Smart Columbus umbrella, established two years ago when the city was named the recipient of the $40 million Smart City Challenge grant from the U.S. DOT.

In the last several weeks Tampa Bay, Fla., launched a connected vehicle pilot to ultimately install connected vehicle technologies on about 1,200 personal vehicles. Already, data from those vehicles is flowing into local transportation management centers, and will aid in future decision-making, said Bob Frey, planning director at the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, which is taking the lead on the project.

“So we are seeing basic safety messages … at a high enough level that we’re confident we’ll be able to come up with some good data,” Frey told Government Technology in an interview earlier this month. “We do have connectivity. And we do have coverage through our study area where we’re able to show that.” 

In another project in the west, the Colorado DOT, in partnership with Panasonic Corp. of North America, has been installing a network of roughly 100 roadside units along Interstate 70 between Golden and Vail, a stretch of about 90 miles, and expects to have the digital corridor complete and operational by the end of the month.

The system will enable a “vehicle-to-everything” — known as V2X — environment where cars can share billions of data points an hour related to speed and other operations, which are fed into the system to generate alerts and other information.

“The idea behind connected vehicles is it is taking information straight from your vehicle and then sending it straight back to the driver who is in the vehicle, and shares that information, what’s happening with your car,” explained Amy Ford, chief of advanced mobility at the Colorado DOT, speaking with Government Technology during the summer. “So, say your airbag gets deployed, or you just hard-slammed on your brakes … all of that is shared 10 times a second and that’s what feeds ... what we call [the] ‘vehicle-to-vehicle’ part of it.”

The project in Marysville and other locations are simply following the transportation technology trends rapidly being developed, in part, by car-makers, and also by transportation agencies.

“The technology is rapidly advancing,” said Barna at DriveOhio. “We now have technology we can deploy to make our roads much safer. All the states are looking at this in some sort of fashion, as well as — there are so many advancements being made by automotive companies.

“It’s a big deal and it’s coming around very quickly,” he added. 

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.