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Smart Columbus Program Aims to Raise $1 Billion in Local Resources by 2021

Turning Columbus, Ohio, into the epicenter of intelligent-transportation testing comes with a hefty price tag.

(TNS) — Turning Columbus into the epicenter of intelligent-transportation testing won't come cheap.

Columbus has gathered an additional $277 million in local matching resources for its Smart Columbus program since winning a federal grant last summer.

When the U.S. Department of Transportation crowned Columbus the winner of the Smart Cities challenge in June, officials said they had gathered about $90 million on top of the $50 million it would receive from the federal government and Vulcan Inc.

Now, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said it can back those grants with even more local commitments from both private organizations and public funds. Between the grants and the local match, Smart Columbus has about $417 million in resources to turn Columbus into the testing ground for intelligent-transportation systems.

Much of that — about $251.1 million — will be in the value of projects from the private sector, local government and others that they will pay for directly. Most of that, $181 million, is from projects funded by American Electric Power. CEO Nick Akins said at a Wednesday news conference that the utility plans to roll out about 894,000 smart meters, which will allow two-way communication between the company and the meters.

Another $93.7 million is in the form of research, more than half of which will come from Ohio State University.

About $27.7 million is in cash, including about $10 million from the Columbus Partnership, $2 million from Ohio State and $9 million from the city and county.

Officials have said Smart Columbus will bring the city more electric-vehicle charging stations; street lights that act as wireless Internet hubs; emergency vehicles that interact with traffic signals; and driverless shuttles at Easton, among other advancements in the next four years. The city has to execute its proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation and relay data and lessons learned by 2020.

The first of those advancements should start rolling out later this year.

Ginther said he wants to raise $1 billion in local resources for Smart Columbus by the end of 2020.

"Smart Columbus is just the start," he said at the news conference. "There is a lot to this program no one has ever done before."

Ginther also announced that the city has hired its former deputy director of economic development, Mike Stevens, as chief innovation officer to oversee the project. The city's eight-person Smart Columbus team will work out of the Idea Foundry on West State Street in Franklinton, a space where entrepreneurs, designers and inventors work on their projects.

The Columbus Partnership also has appointed a vice president who will oversee the private investment in the program.

"When you look at what other cities have done, the innovation officers have shown the ability, given the right resources, to take current practices and enhance them," Councilman Michael Stinziano said.

City Council President Zach Klein said the fast-changing technology that will come through the Smart Columbus initiative will help the city set up residents for jobs that don't exist yet.

"These are the jobs of the 21st century," he said.

Jobs were central to the questions that Linden residents had when the city held public forums there earlier this month, Councilman Shannon G. Hardin said. For example, creating a universal transportation access card that residents can load with cash and use for bus, taxi and ride-sharing transportation will make it easier for people there to get to work, he said.

"Technology will shape and improve the way people are connected to their basic needs," Hardin said.

AEP also plans to build about 1,200 charging stations around the state.

"Transportation is a logical extension to the work we do," he said. "We want to make it possible for everyone to drive an electric vehicle. Electric vehicles are good for AEP, obviously."

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