The Implications of Connected and Automated Vehicles for Local Agency Planning

Minnesota DOT has released a set of recommendations for local agencies to consider when planning their future capital projects and traffic control equipment investments. Report 2019-35 titled, “How Locals Need to Prepare for the Future of V2V / V2I Connected Vehicles” was written by John Hourdos and makes six specific recommendations for local agencies.

Local agencies have limited road construction and maintenance budgets. And their capital expenditures normally are expected to last 20 years. So, design and component choices they make today should be compatible, as much as possible, with emerging and future vehicle technologies. This report attempts to help them do that.

The first two recommendations are well known: maintain road markings and maintain clear signage. Without them most current vehicle systems cannot navigate accurately.  Proper levels of retroreflectivity and standard, consistent formatting are key.

The third recommendation is to modernize roadway design information. Some geometric features may have an affect on autonomous vehicles. But what those features are and how they will affect future vehicles is not clear today, so this advice is more difficult to follow. Still, we should be aware this may become an issue, including in our work zones.

They also stress the importance of accurate digital maps that can be changed in real time. “These maps will need to detail exactly where the roadways are and what their features are. They will also need to be kept up to date, as CAV applications depend on current, precise information.”

This is a topic we have written about on numerous occasions. Only when work zone details are automatically updated on our digital maps, can we expect CAVs to safely navigate our work zones.

The fourth recommendation is to modernize controller hardware. This applies primarily to permanent signal controllers. They recommend spending the money for controllers with room to add new software as CAVs become more common. Our portable, temporary signal vendors should keep this in mind if and when they redesign their equipment or software.

The report is short and high-level, but it can start the process of planning for the future in our many local agencies.

PennDOT to Test Autonomous Vehicles in Work Zones

Pennsylvania DOT recently won a $8.4 million dollar grant from FHWA to begin testing autonomous vehicles in work zones. The story by Ed Blazina ran last Wednesday in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. And he shows a real understanding of the problem when he writes, “one driving circumstance that almost all of the companies have avoided so far is driving through work zones. That’s because those areas don’t provide the regular pattern self-driving vehicles thrive on and have out-of-the-norm items such as construction barrels and lane markings that aren’t as distinctive as on regular roads.”

The award was the largest of eight grants handed out by Secretary Chao to study the safety of autonomous vehicles. This is significant as it demonstrates recognition of the importance of work zone safety at the highest levels at DOT.

PennDOT doesn’t believe any one solution will solve the problem. So, they proposed to approach the problem from a variety of angles including, “detailed mapping systems, communications systems between work-zone equipment and self-driving vehicles, and coatings for barrels and road surfaces to help self-driving vehicles recognize conditions.”

The story made no mention of automated work zone reporting, but that may be part of the “communications…between work-zone equipment and self-driving vehicles.”

In their 25 page application PennDOT stated they will start with computer simulations then move to a closed track for the second phase of testing. Once their concepts are proven they will then test them out in real-world work zones.

They will be working with a nine member team including Carnegie Mellon and PPG Paints.

Work Zone Data Initiative Activity Update

The Work Zone Data Initiative (WZDI) was created to gather best practices, educate practitioners, and move everyone to more standardized methods of data collection and analysis for work zones. This has included the development of a data dictionary, standard data elements and formats, and much more. The FHWA Work Zone Management Program recently published their quarterly newsletter detailing the progress made in this area. Learn more HERE.

Download the Work Zone Activity Data Needs & Opportunities report HERE.

This report was produced by Jerry Ullman and Melisa Finley of TTI. It looks at the benefits we can expect from more consistent data collection. In particular, local and state agencies, private data consumers, and contractors will all be able to compare projects, work zone impact mitigation strategies, and work zone design to find the safest, most efficient methods in any given situation. The benefits will be significant.

But there are many challenges as well. Currently work zone data collection in inconsistent due both to varying practices from one agency to the next and to a lack of funding. Getting to the point where everyone collects data on all work zones and in the same format will be a formidable undertaking.

And the richness of the data will make it even more complex. Consider the proposed elements for just this one item:

This will not be easy. But the rewards in reduced crashes and improved operational efficiency demand that we move forward. Perhaps we might start with a few “standard” elements such as location, dates, and measures of the temporary reductions in capacity as a way of demonstrating what can be done. Once consumers of this data get a taste, they will demand additional elements. And it will then be much easier to cost justify the effort.