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Why the US Infrastructure Bill can’t just be about building new roads & bridges

Jan. 19, 2022
The future of transportation is rooted in smart infrastructure.

By Dr. Georges Aoude, CEO and co-founder of Derq

With United States President Joe Biden’s recent signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, many outdated state and local roads, bridges and transit systems will be improved, not only to keep up with consumer demand, but also to provide increased safety in reducing crashes and fatalities.

This Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will boost transit funding for communities all over the country by an average of 30% and will also help transit agencies reduce the current maintenance backlog by 15% and replace more than 500 aging subway, light rail, and commuter rail cars. It also aims to reduce traffic crashes with pedestrians and cyclists through a “Safe Streets and Roads for All” program.

Infrastructure investments must go beyond new roads and bridges

While this is the largest investment in American infrastructure in generations and marks an inflection point for American transportation, building and upgrading is simply not enough for the technological landscape in which we live, where intelligent and autonomous transportation technology creates opportunities and can enable the US to achieve vision zero. This is one of the more revolutionary plans aimed at eliminating deaths and severe injuries due to road traffic and unsafe infrastructure.

Smart infrastructure must play a significant role

Instead of just investing in traditional infrastructure or simply rebuilding highways and bridges, “smart infrastructure,” or the technology designed to enable safer, more connected and efficient roads, needs to be at the forefront of the future of our transportation ecosystem. From improved traffic and pedestrian safety to less congested roadways and lower CO2 emissions (and eventually city-wide autonomous vehicles deployment), the future of transportation is rooted in smart infrastructure.

Several artificial-intelligence companies have propelled this focus on smart infrastructure, as platforms have been specifically developed using real-time advanced analytics to have “eyes” and “brains” on the road infrastructure. These platforms enable greater visibility overall for all road users, making transportation not only safer, but more comfortable and with even better performance. These platforms can monitor the trajectories and predict the intents for all vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians in the field of view of traffic sensors, creating a comprehensive understanding of road-user behavior that helps predict collisions and identify dangerous spots on roads.

As a bonus, this insight will result in less-congested roads. For an average US citizen, congestion wastes 99 hours of their time and costs them $1,377 each year in auto expenses. Smart infrastructure can prevent automobile backups by adjusting traffic signals when needed.

Finally, the autonomous-vehicle (AV) industry is realizing that smart infrastructure is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to accelerating the ability to deploy more AV routes in different cities and countries in a safe and scalable way.

Smart infrastructure already beginning in some areas

Smart infrastructure has already been an area of focus for many communities around the US. For example, the city of Fremont in California has teamed up with CT Group and Derq to deploy AI intersection-analytics systems as a key component of a safe-and-smart corridor project along a nine-mile section of Fremont Boulevard. In Michigan, the DOT teamed up with Cavnue and other regional partners to develop a major connected and autonomous corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor, starting with connected buses and expanding to additional types verhicles. These points of emphasis serve as a baseline from which the new Infrastructure Bill can build upon. In fact, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has already prompted deployment of several transportation technologies in programs such as Vulnerable Road User Research and the Congestion Relief Program.

Innovative technologies at the heart of smart infrastructure

The new Infrastructure Bill offers signs of progress in leveraging advanced AI and data analytics to smart infrastructure buildouts. For example, the bill establishes the Safety Data Initiative, where the DOT can conduct projects, award grants, and use other strategies that leverage new data visualization, sharing, and analytic tools that federal, state and local entities can use to enhance surface-transportation safety.

In order to truly build an infrastructure-transportation network that serves as a global model, investments in US smart infrastructure cannot just be pilot trial programs. This technology must be central to the development of a nationwide transportation network that paves the way for the future of intelligent and autonomous mobility.

As exciting as it is to see a new and improved US transportation infrastructure now in the works, it is significant to realize that none of these roads will be more efficient and provide the utmost safety standards without smart infrastructure leading the way. By utilizing AI startup companies’ tested and proven technologies, road users across the country will see more reliable transit service, drive on smarter roads, and feel much safer as pedestrians, creating more ways for people to get to work, to play, to access healthcare, and to visit friends and family.