Jun 10th 2016 | Posted in News by Peter Partheymuller

USDOT competition offers $50 million to build transportation system

Austin Mayor Steve Adler traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to present formally the city’s application for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Smart City Challenge. The competition will award the winning city a $40 million federal grant and at least another $10 million from the private sector to jumpstart its efforts to build a modern transportation system.

Image of the logo for USDOT, which administers the FASTLANE grants

U.S. Department of Transportation logo

Adler’s presentation highlighted Austin’s intention to build a pilot program to test self-driving cars using the closed environment of the city’s airport. The city also plans to use the grant funds to build out its intelligent transportation systems with sensors installed throughout roadways that will convey data to a central transportation management source. That data will inform decisions made about traffic signals in an effort to manage the city’s flow of traffic.

The other finalists are Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco. All of them presented applications that covered similar ground as Austin’s, which fall in line with the purpose of the challenge: to use technology to improve a city’s transportation system for all of its residents.

Denver’s focused on an integrated data system that would draw real-time information from many sources, connecting smart vehicles to the street grid. Portland’s application suggested the city would offer residents a variety of transportation and transit options and let them choose from the alternatives, make arrangements and pay fares all from within a single smartphone app.

Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto spoke about using the contest as a chance to allow technology to connect poorer neighborhoods to opportunities they don’t currently have. Kansas City Mayor Sly James made the case that his city already has spent years developing smart corridors and would be able to do more with the grants than the other finalists because Kansas City’s leaders have the requisite experience.

The contingents from Columbus and San Francisco each boasted of commitments from public- and private-sector partners to match grant funding and boost the prize totals. Columbus officials have gathered an additional $90 million in pledged support, and San Francisco’s partners have promised to give the city’s efforts another $150 million.

The winning city will be announced by the end of June.

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