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A public policy blog from AEI
Building autonomous vehicles is a daunting engineering challenge. But so is preparing the roadways on which they will operate. It’s the latter you don’t hear much about, certainly versus the daily firehose of news about driverless cars. Still, upgraded infrastructure is key to making the autonomous vision a reality. Who’ll pay the bills? This from The Car Connection web site outlines some issues:
Self-driving cars need better roads, better lane markings, better traffic-light timing, and better maintenance to behave predictably. Lane striping must be clear and regular. The road surface must contrast crisply with the striping. With today’s technology, the roads must be clear of snow and ice and so should the car’s sensors that are reading those roads. Those conditions alone have limited self-driving car demonstrations to just a handful of locations. California and Nevada have led the way in grooming highways and streets for these demonstrations, and thousands of Tesla, Volvo, and Mercedes drivers accumulate piloted-driving miles on roads of varying quality.
One city is about to learn how much it might cost to prepare for self-driving cars. The city of Atlanta is not one of the key DOT cities identified for self-driving cars, but it wants to be one. Later this year, the city will christen a smart-traffic corridor along North Avenue, which connects Georgia Tech with the busy Midtown corporate district. It will upgrade the street with everything from traffic-sensing cameras to solar-powered trash compactors, all in the interests of encouraging more multi-modal transportation and self-driving car traffic. Using North Avenue as a case study, the city estimates it could take 50,000 environmental sensors, 20,000 pedestrian and mobility sensors, and 10,000 cameras on top of the the current 960 street lights and more than 50,000 street lights to upconvert its city grid to so-called “smart street” status.
City officials say the costs associated with upgrading North Avenue to a street friendly to self-driving cars are inherent in the “smart street” upgrades. They don’t describe how much that upgrade will cost versus a standard repaving project. In other cities, resurfacing a mile of road has been estimated at well over $1 million, with an additional $50,000 or more required in striping and in traffic-sensing cameras per intersection.
In 2015, the state of Georgia asked voters for a $900 million tax increase that would allow it just to catch up on deferred and increased future maintenance, including long-deferred road improvements. The bill, approved by voters, dropped the state’s popular $5,000 tax credit on purchasing or leasing electric cars and instead charged electric car drivers a road-usage fee, while it raised gas taxes on other vehicles. As a result, the state committed to spend $2.2 billion alone on resurfacing 2,500 miles of roads, repairing and building new bridges, and improving intersections for smoother traffic flow.
That tax increase came before the city has factored in any other hardware upgrades, such as V2X receivers and transmitters. V2X (“vehicle to X”) technology allows vehicles to communicate with other cars as well as stop lights, traffic sensors, cameras, and temporary obstacles such as construction barriers. Connected by V2X, all those pieces form an “internet of things” that share information about the same physical environment at the same time.
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