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.

Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future

We are looking forward to the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) Midyear Meetings. https://www.atssa.com/Events/Midyear-Meeting  They will be held next week (August 21 to 23) in San Diego. There will be many topics of interest including the joint working group with the Automotive Safety Council discussing automated vehicles and how their systems will communicate with work zones and a new Traffic Signals working group meeting to form a new division in ATSSA.

Not on the agenda, but sure to be another topic of conversation is a document recently published by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) titled, “Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future (2019).” This report was requested by Congress to facilitate their discussions on the future of highway construction, maintenance and most importantly, funding.

Download a copy of the report HERE.

The report begins by looking at the history of the national highway system, then examines the needs for current and future maintenance and expansion and the funding problems of the trust fund. Finally, it offers a “Blueprint for Action” including these 10 recommendations:

  1. Congress should require a new program to rebuild and revitalize our existing highway system.
  2. They should work with states to “right size” the highway system, adding capacity where needed to meet developing demand.
  3. FHWA should work with states to assess the structural integrity of existing pavements and use that to decide when full reconstruction is more cost-effective than repaving.
  4. These improvements should be paid for by immediately raising the federal fuel tax to cover the federal share of the investment in renewal and modernization.
  5. Congress should allow states and local agencies to toll existing roadways as a way of helping them pay their share of these improvements.
  6. To avoid future funding shortfalls due to changes in technology, Congress should prepare to change from a per gallon fuel charge to a miles-driven or other user-based system.
  7. A new database of pavement conditions should be developed and combined with new modeling software to help make better decisions regarding the roads that should be improved.
  8. Begin preparing for connected and automated vehicles by learning what they will need in terms of roadway safety infrastructure including pavement markings signs, and temporary traffic control devices.
  9. With the goal of a more resilient highway system, assess the potential threats to our roadways from climate change and extreme weather and determine where improvements to our roads should be made.
  10. Recommend ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As Congress works once again on a new highway bill, this document is sure to be a part of the discussion. Most of these 10 recommendations fit nicely with ATSSA’s efforts to improve roadway safety. Familiarize yourself with these recommendations and include them in your next conversation with your elected representatives!