As evidenced by an embarrassing moment at the LA Auto Show last year when a prototype Volvo autonomous vehicle carrying LA mayor Eric Garcetti couldn’t collect enough visual data to move forward smoothly, even the most basic aspects of the nation’s roadway infrastructure will need upgrading before fully self-driving cars can be successfully deployed. “We need to ensure lane striping is clear so a self-driving car’s cameras can recognize them and invest in consistent signage,” says Avery Ash, autonomous vehicle market strategist for Inrix.
Stakeholders are hoping these improvements and others will be included in President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spending package that he promised during his campaign and since taking office that could receive rare bipartisan support. “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land,” Trump declared during a speech to congress in February.
While details have been scarce, last week Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and a source in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for the first time put numbers behind the proposal, if not specifics. Chao told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday that “the proposal will likely include $200 billion in direct federal funds which will be used to leverage $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over the next 10 years,” adding that the “principles” of the infrastructure package would be revealed by the end of the month.
On Thursday, an OMB official confirmed to Bloomberg that the fiscal-year 2018 budget proposal scheduled to be released by the White House next week will include $200 billion in federal infrastructure spending over the next decade in an effort to encourage $800 billion in added investment from private, state and local sources. The OMB official added that the $200 billion would be mostly spent in the second through sixth year of the decade-long budget cycle and that it would be offset to not add to the deficit, but didn’t specify how.
Administration officials have also indicated that the infrastructure plan will promote public-private partnerships to reach the estimated $1 trillion through global private capital investments.
Chao told the senate committee the administration has organized an infrastructure task force made up of 16 federal agencies and departments to streamline environmental regulations and fast-track the projects. “Obviously, the President is very impatient,” she told the committee, adding that a comprehensive legislative package is likely by the third quarter.
While self-driving car advocates are pushing for roadway improvements, Chao said that a broad classification of infrastructure will be targeted, including everything from airports to veterans’ hospitals. But she added that the initial rollout of the plan “will not specify any list of projects.”
The development of autonomous car technology won’t wait for an act of congress. But as with the example of the awkward Volvo self-driving demo in LA last year, it could slow down the deployment of the cars themselves. “In short,” adds Inrix’s Ash, “we must address our 20th century transportation needs before we can realize a 21st century system.”
Originally published by Forbes.com