ITS: The Future Is Here

In early November, Americans went to the polls to choose their new leaders. And the outcome of this election will impact what steps are taken to improve infrastructure—and how technology will play a role.

Regardless of how the election divided most of America, many voters agree that the nation’s infrastructure has gotten worse, according to an Association of Equipment Manufacturers poll released back in August.

What is needed is for government, technology providers and the construction community to come together to identify how technology can help build infrastructure.

This trend began to take shape this year. Back in October, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced programs designed to advance technology in smart cities and infrastructure.

San Francisco has a new grant for intelligent systems technologies. Denver received funding for a smart-city program. There is a new innovation partnership to implement technologies on U.S. Route 33 in the cities of Marysville and Dublin in Union County, near Columbus, Ohio.

A grant was given for border crossing technologies in Niagara-Buffalo region. Pittsburgh is implementing a variety of intelligent systems technologies. Houston is also receiving smarter systems.

And this was all announced in the month of October.

Now, time will tell what the new administration will do with regards to implementing technology in cities and infrastructure, but the ball is certainly already beginning to roll in that direction.

A Look Inside

There is a common thread between most of these announcements—ITS (intelligent transportation systems) technologies.

The majority of these projects are incorporating this type of technology to improve congestion and overall safety of people occupying the infrastructure.

While each city and state might be doing something a little differently, this is what they have in common.

As one example, the FHWA announced a $10.8 million grant for Pittsburgh to implement a variety of intelligent systems technologies in the city.

The grant was given under the FHWA’s Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment program for “Smart Spine” corridors in Pittsburgh that connect with primary commercial centers and amenities.

The technologies include expanding the network of connected, real-time adaptive signal controllers to promote more optimized transit operations.

Pittsburgh is also implementing an LED (light-emitting diode) smart streetlight conversion of nearly 40,000 street lights. With this technology, the lights will have both traffic detection and air quality sensors, providing energy savings to the city.

This particular grant is part of the larger announcement, which totals $56.6 million to fund advanced technologies to various areas of the country.

The program funds technologies that address the concerns that were outlined in the Beyond Traffic report that were issued last year and address the challenges facing America’s transportation infrastructure. The Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment program was established under the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” Act.

What does all this mean for the construction industry? Intelligent transport systems are here. In fact, a Research and Markets report suggests the global market will grow from $36.1 billion in 2015 to $63.66 billion by 2022. This is a compound annual growth rate of 8.3 percent between 2016 and 2022.

This particular report points to the adoption of railway intelligent transportation systems being a step towards gaining a competitive edge over other modes of transportation. Still, the roadways segment has dominated the global market.

Transportation of the Future

The future of transportation will likely incorporate some form of intelligent transportation systems, which integrate information and communication technologies with existing transportation networks to improve operating efficiency and travel experience.

Terry Bill, global transportation industry manager, Esri, says there are two factors driving the growth of this technology today. The first is the fact that in many areas of the country, we can no longer “build” our way out of congestion. The second is that connected and autonomous vehicles are becoming “connected” to their infrastructure.

John Paljug, president of Siemens Rail Automation in the United States, adds that populations are growing, which is also driving the need for intelligent transportation systems.

“By the year 2050, an estimated 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities,” he explains. “As a result, there will be an increasingly urgent need to provide more intelligent mobility solutions for the residents that make travel simpler, more flexible, more reliable and affordable. Cities, on the other hand, face the challenge of reducing the costs, space requirements, noise and CO2 emissions of the transportation.”

Often, the challenge is that the different technology players in the market have different approaches to the data that will be required, and the ways in which the technology will be applied, explains Bill.

What is needed from the construction community is strong links to groups they may not have had much contact with, he continues.

“There are really two types of firms that are engaged in ITS projects: the large A&E firms like HNTB, and the specialized ITS implementers like Iteris,” he says. “There are a range of standards and background understanding about ITS communication protocols that are prerequisites to entry into the ITS market. If you don’t have those skills, you certainly need to develop that background.”

So what is coming for the future?

Bill does believe the industry will make great strides in using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to build even better traffic-management systems, but he also cautions that “anyone who tells you they know what will happen in the next 10 years is either a liar or an idiot.” This is because there is so much division among experts.

And perhaps this could also be because leaders in government are changing as well. Time will tell what will come in the future, but technology, such as intelligent transportation systems, can certainly play an enabling role in helping move all this forward.

Now, it is simply a matter of creating the framework and building the partnerships to bring all this to fruition.

Posted: 12/2/2016 2:00:48 PM