Transportation officials across the country breathed a sigh of relief when a new $305 billion federal highway bill was signed into law late last week. But the U.S. DOT wants those same officials to look further into the future than the five years of funding the bill offers – and to begin looking into public-private solutions to transportation issues.
In February the department published a report titled Beyond Traffic warning that the nation’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure won’t be able to cope with a sharp increase in population in certain critical regions of the country. The report called for investment in alternative mobility options in 11 “megaregions” such as the Pacific Northwest, New England and much of the Gulf Coast that represent 75 percent of the U.S. population and employment.
To jump-start this effort, the U.S. DOT announced yesterday that it’s offering up to $40 million as part of a Smart City Challenge to help spur transportation innovation in at least one mid-sized city within one of these megaregions. In addition, Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. will award an extra $10 million to the Smart City Challenge winner and work with the city to secure the federal funding.
The Smart City Challenge is designed to “create a fully integrated, first-of-its-kind city that uses data, technology and creativity to shape how people and goods move in the future,” the U.S. DOT said in a statement announcing the new initiative. The $40 million in funding will be used “to implement bold, data-driven ideas by making transportation safer, easier, and more reliable,” it added. The U.S. DOT also hopes that “lessons learned from this competition will be used in other cities to improve networks nationwide and demonstrate a practical path to replacing carbon-based fuel consumption.”
“We encourage cities to develop their own unique vision, partnerships and blueprints to demonstrate to the world what a fully integrated, forward-looking transportation network looks like,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “America can remain the global leader in maintaining the safest, most efficient system in the world. I am looking for mayors who share that belief to join us in pushing the boundaries of what is possible.”
Entrants are being asked to submit their vision of a Smart City by February 4, 2016 that corresponds with a Notice of Funding Opportunity. The U.S. DOT will announce five finalists in March 2016, and then the city that will be awarded the up $40 million in funds will be revealed in June 2016.
According to the U.S. DOT, the ideal Smart City Challenge candidate is a mid-sized city with a population between approximately 200,000 and 850,000 people, with more than 15 percent of its overall population living in an urban area, as verified by 2010 Census data. It should also have “an established public transportation system, an environment that is conducive to demonstrating proposed strategies and leadership and capacity to carry out the demonstration throughout the period of performance,” according to the U.S. DOT.
The U.S. DOT said the funds “will allow the selected city to demonstrate how advanced data, technologies, and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, respond to climate change, and support economic vitality. Specifically, these innovations will connect people, vehicles, public transportation, and infrastructure through ITS, sharing economy, and other technologies that improve the way Americans move, whether it be to drop off kids at school, pick up their groceries, get to work and receive critical services.”
Connectivity is the key word and points to some of the technologies and public-private projects that are ripe for this kind of public-private investment, such as self-driving cars, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication and multi-modal mobility that blends traditional cars with other modes of transportation. A midsize city could use the funds, for example, to implement an autonomous car sharing service, create a V2V and V2I network to improve traffic flow or implement a system that links drivers with alternative transportation such as public transit or even e-bikes.
“Transformative innovation takes ambitious support from both the government and the private sector,” said Vulcan president and CEO Barbara Bennett. “That’s why we’re partnering with the DOT to inspire innovative, scalable, proof-of-concept solutions to address some of our planet’s most urgent challenges. We hope that together we can spur change by demonstrating what is possible through replicable models.”
Secretary Foxx hosted a national webcast today at 3:15 p.m. EST, and a Smart City Forum will be streamed on December 15 to discuss funding opportunities, application requirements, the award selection process and answer questions.