Why the U.S. Infrastructure Bill Can’t Just Be About Building New Roads & Bridges
As U.S. President Joe Biden recently signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, many outdated state and local roads, bridges and transit systems will be improved, not only to keep up with consumer demand but also to provide increased safety in reducing crashes and fatalities.
This Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will (1) boost transit funding for communities all over the country by an average of 30% and will also help transit agencies reduce the current maintenance backlog by 15% and replace more than 500 aging subway, light rail, and commuter rail cars. It also aims to reduce traffic crashes impacting pedestrians and cyclists through a “Safe Streets and Roads for All” program.
Infrastructure Investments Must Go Beyond New Roads and Bridges
While this is the largest investment in American infrastructure in generations and marks an inflection point for American transportation, building and upgrading is simply not enough in the technological landscape we live in, where intelligent and autonomous transportation technology creates opportunities and has hopes of helping the U.S. achieve vision zero. It is one of the more revolutionary plans aimed at eliminating deaths and severe injuries due to road traffic as well as unsafe infrastructure.
Smart Infrastructure Must Play A Significant Role
Instead of just investing in traditional infrastructure or simply rebuilding highways and bridges, “smart infrastructure,” or the technology designed to enable safer, more connected and efficient roads need to be at the forefront of the future of the transportation ecosystem. From (2) improved traffic and pedestrian safety to less congested roadways and lower CO2 emissions, and eventually city-wide autonomous vehicles deployments, the future of transportation is rooted in smart infrastructure.
Several AI companies have created this focus on smart infrastructure, as platforms have been specifically developed, using real-time advanced analytics, to have “eyes” and “brains” on the road infrastructure. These platforms allow for greater visibility overall for all road users, making the transportation not only safer, but more comfortable and with even better performance. For example, they can monitor the trajectories and predict the intents for all vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians in the field of view of traffic sensors, creating a comprehensive understanding of road user behavior that helps identify and predict potential conflicts or collisions and in-turn dangerous spots on the roads. This will also result in less-congested roads. For an average U.S. citizen, congestion costs 99 hours of their time and US$1,377 each year (3). Smart infrastructure can prevent traffic backups by adjusting traffic signals when needed. Finally, the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry is realizing that smart infrastructure is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to accelerating the ability to deploy more AV routes in different cities and countries in a safe and scalable way.
Smart Infrastructure Already Beginning in Some Areas
The good news is that smart infrastructure has already been on the radar as well as an area of focus for many communities around the U.S. For example, the city of Fremont in California has teamed up with CT Group and Derq to deploy AI intersection analytics systems as a key component of a safe and smart corridor project along a nine-mile section of Fremont Boulevard (4). In Michigan, the DOT teamed up with Cavnue and other regional partners to develop a major connected and autonomous corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor, starting with connected buses and expanding to additional types of CAVs (5). These points of emphasis serve as a baseline from which the new Infrastructure Bill can build upon. In fact, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has already prompted deployment of several transportation technologies in programs such as “the Vulnerable Road User Research” and “Congestion Relief Program” programs (6).
Innovative Technologies at the Heart of Smart Infrastructure
The new infrastructure bill offers signs of progress in leveraging advanced AI and data analytics to smart infrastructure buildouts. For example, the bill establishes the Safety Data Initiative where the DOT can conduct projects, award grant, and also use other strategies that leverage new data visualization, sharing, and analytic tools that Federal, State, and Local entities can use to enhance surface transportation safety.
In order to truly build an infrastructure transportation network that serves as a global model, investments in US smart infrastructure cannot just be pilot trial programs. This technology must be central to the development of a nationwide transportation network that paves the way for the future of intelligent and autonomous mobility. As much as it is exciting to see a new and improved U.S transportation infrastructure now in the works, it is significant to realize that none of these roads will be more efficient and provide the utmost safety standards without smart infrastructure leading the way. By utilizing AI startup companies’ tested and proven technologies, road users across the country will see more reliable transit service, drive on smarter roads, and walk feeling much safer on the streets, creating more ways for people to get to work, to play, to access healthcare, and to visit friends and family.
Dr. Georges Aoude is CEO and co-founder of Derq, an MIT-spinoff powering the future of connected and autonomous roads, making cities smarter and safer for all road users, and enabling the deployment of autonomous vehicles at scale. Derq provides cities and fleets with an award-winning and patented smart infrastructure Platform powered by AI that helps them tackle the most challenging road safety and traffic management problems. You can find the company on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
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