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State DOTs and the Emergence of Autonomous Vehicles

Matt Ball on May 20, 2016 - in Corporate, Design/Engineering, Transportation

State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and other transportation agencies are often challenged to adopt emerging technologies while still maintaining safety and efficiency for all users.

Traditionally, most advancements in transportation technology are implemented over a relatively long time frame, but there is a sea change coming for both the traveling public and those charged with managing our nation’s road network.

The rapid evolution of autonomous, or “self-driving” vehicles (AV) will have a huge, but still unknown effect on all of our transportation systems. Equipping vehicles with sensors and software—vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications—has the real potential to eliminate the need for human drivers.  AV technology also has the potential to markedly reduce crashes, eliminate the “lost” time spent driving and improve accessibility for many.

These quality-of-life benefits have direct alignment with the mandates of DOTs. In the past, transportation policy would have been the driver for these transformations.  Now, however, we’re seeing private industry changing the conversation.

Perhaps more disruptive and transformational than any transportation technology since the invention of automobiles, AV will compel and empower DOTs (and their consultants) to evaluate policy and consider implementation challenges and enhancements to the built environment.

In the short-term, the question for many agencies is whether to be the first to adapt these advanced technologies, potentially bringing new jobs and business to their state, or let others be the trailblazers and learn from their experience.

Similar to the work that CH2M is advancing with its state DOT partners in the development of Road User Charging programs, the framework for bringing these new mobility innovations to reality includes:

  • Policy and Legislative Coordination
  • Governance and Administration
  • Public Outreach and Education
  • Regulation
  • Implementation
  • Infrastructure and Technology
  • Funding and Financing

Why should DOTs care about this now? It’s simple. Getting regulations and policy around AV needs to be done right, from the get-go, for many reasons:

  • pave the way for states to reduce and eliminate crashes as soon as possible
  • improve access to healthcare, job opportunities and social interaction for those in need
  • increase mobility and maximize efficiency of traffic flow
  • advance (not limit) the technology
  • minimize inconsistencies in policy between states

In today’s world, technology drives almost everything the industry does. Embracing technology in a timely and thoughtful manner helps DOTs keep pace with the rapidly accelerating industry where transformation and change will occur faster than we can imagine.

As a consultant, CH2M is excited to be on the ground floor partnering with our DOT and agency clients to navigate the exciting changes that are reshaping the world of transportation.

Authored by: Loren Bloomberg, Director of Traffic Engineering and Traffic Simulation; and Kristin Hull, Senior Project Manager and Public Involvement Practice Leader at CH2M

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