Photo courtesy of ARTBA
Automotive manufacturing insiders told TransOvation attendees that smart vehicles will be on the road within the next decade.

Thought leaders in transportation and technology are pondering how to prepare "dumb" U.S. infrastructure for the addition of "smart" automated and automation-assisted vehicles. Cars that can drive themselves and "talk" to other cars may bring big potential benefits in terms of capacity and safety but equally big risks in cyber-security and legal issues.

Citing the example of how smart phones have caused a sea change in society, HNTB Senior Vice President Ted Zoli told fellow thought leaders, "What does 'smart infrastructure' mean? Smart vehicles ... give us the opportunity to change the way we think about our [transportation] assets."

Zoli spoke at the American Road & Transportation Builders Association's annual TransOvation workshop, held late last month in San Jose, Calif. In addition to transportation construction experts, the interactive workshop included high-tech and automotive industry insiders.

Participants generally agreed that, to some degree, automated vehicles will be a presence within the next decade. "From the OEM [original equipment manufacturer] perspective, the infrastructure world is slow to change," said Christopher Poe, assistant director at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). Citing a current TTI scoping study, he noted that no state transportation departments are yet taking smart vehicles into consideration in long-range construction plans.

One panelist offered another perspective. Noting articles written decades ago about the "impending" technology, Thomas Bamonte, general counsel of the North Texas Tollway Authority, said, "We should not be complacent that this is inevitable."

After two days of panels, Zoli and John Hillman, Parsons bridge practice leader, asked participants to form groups and brainstorm game plans for policies and campaigns related to the issue.

One team suggested a pilot program to implement smart vehicles in stages, from managed lanes to the interstate and then to city roads. Another team suggested insurance companies could be asked to help fund infrastructure improvements via the savings on driver policies. Moreover, smart vehicles could be rented, just like current-day Zipcars or city bikes.

Driverless technology "changes the ball game for infrastructure, but it doesn't mitigate the need for infrastructure," said Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "There's a need for all players to spend more time together, reflecting, coordi-nating and advocating for a thoughtful transportation policy."