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Beyond the wheel

Gauging the consequences, intended and unintended, of a driverless future

Gary Hullfish, vice president, HNTB Corp. - AARON HOUSTON

Gary Hullfish, vice president, HNTB Corp. – AARON HOUSTON

In 2018 HNTB, a Kansas City-based infrastructure solutions firm with four offices in New Jersey, produced a white paper outlining its vision for the future of connected and autonomous vehicles. “Planners are beginning to understand the traditional planning cycle is no longer appropriate due to changes in technology,” the paper noted. “Trying to predict travel patterns in 20 or 40 years in the environment with the number of unknowns in the connected and autonomous vehicle industry and the pace of change is virtually impossible.”

But HNTB did predict – sort of – an unintended consequence.

“Autonomous vehicles may end hundreds of millions of dollars generated from tickets and other penalties for bad human driving- dollars that provide significant funding for transportation infrastructure maintenance and many other public services.”

As a result, HNTB warns that planners will need to re-evaluate how they deal with land use and infrastructure changes.

HNTB predicts that connected and autonomous vehicles will affect businesses such as taxi and trucking companies and that those effects will revolve around legal and regulatory issues related to liability, taxation and use of GPS information along with other vehicle-generated data. State and regional transportation agencies have taken note and begun examining how the changes could play out.

Testing connections

HNTB’s clients include the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Monmouth County, and Camden County. Tracing its roots to 1887, HNTB serves public and private owners and contractors.

Tony Bartello is the northeast manager of intelligent transportation systems and an associate vice president for HNTB. Governmental transportation agencies are interested in preparing themselves to be connected on the roadway, Bartello said.

“We are helping the DOT develop roadside standards so they can communicate with vehicles and see what applications might be most useful,” Bartello said.

Gary Hullfish, a civil engineer with 34 years of experience and an HNTB executive in New Jersey, considers autonomous vehicles to be the wave of the future. “There are different levels of autonomous vehicles,” Hullfish explained. “There is different technology. Take buses, for example. In urban areas where you are trying to improve traffic flow, often times buses get hung up in traffic signals. You can install technology where the bus can communicate with traffic signals to say ‘Hey a bus is coming. Let’s give the bus priority so it can get through the traffic signal and not clog up the intersection.’”

Such technology is available now, Hullfish said. “There are different levels of how it can help. Further down the road, having autonomous vehicles on some level we think it can probably improve traffic flows if you’ve got ways to meter traffic and control how vehicles are travelling.”

Among personal transportation options, automated vehicles have a degree of autonomy, with adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning systems. Connected vehicles allow cars to speak with other cars up to 10 times per second, Bartello said.

The focus is to standardize the systems.

“Two standards are being developed that have two different communication technologies,” Bartello said.

One standard is dedicated short-range communication, which has the backing of the federal government, and the other standard is cellular.

“A lot of manufacturers are getting ready to get on board with dedicated short-range communication,” Bartello said. “Once the industry determines which technology to use, we will have on-board safety. If a car sees a car that is five vehicles ahead hit its brakes, this technology will stop the car.”

An autonomous vehicle brakes based on what it “sees” whereas a connected vehicle speaks with other cars within 1,000 feet and brakes based on the information it receives, Bartello said.

Activity in New Jersey

The state Department of Transportation is developing standards in preparation for connected vehicle infrastructure deployments, Bartello said. Only two or three corridors in New Jersey will be testing for now. A separate project will determine which applications are most important to meet the travelling public’s needs.

Elsewhere, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has issued a request for information to vendors with an eye toward automating buses for Express Bus Lane operations going into the Lincoln Tunnel during the morning rush hour.
The Port Authority is also running a demonstration project to serve as a proof-of-concept for connected and autonomous bus technology for the contraflow Exclusive Bus Lane at the Lincoln Tunnel, spokesman Steve Coleman told NJBIZ via email. The purpose is to move vehicles safely and quickly through the Lincoln Tunnel.

The long-term objectives for equipping the express lane buses with CAV technology are to improve travel time reliability by reducing average peak-hour delay by 10 minutes with reduced incidents and breakdowns, which would allow more vehicles to pass through the tunnel. The agency wants to move motor vehicles through the approach to the tunnel more efficiently, resulting in an additional 10,000 peak-hour passengers, and to eliminate accidents.

The Port Authority running the project in partnership with the other agencies that operate express lanes — the Transportation Department and the Turnpike Authority – along with several large bus operators (NJ Transit, Coach USA and Greyhound), and in consultation with the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration, Coleman said.

A larger advisory group is being employed for the project, including representatives from other regional transportation partners, bus manufacturers, and technology advisors.

The Port Authority is planning demonstrations in 2020 that will assess the performance of technology solutions in an off-site environment, Coleman said. Successful solutions will be demonstrated on a closed express bus lane roadway during early morning weekend hours to minimize customer inconvenience, Coleman said.

Promising solutions will undergo a cost-benefit analysis to serve as the basis for a discussion with the express bus lane partners about scaled deployment strategies and the potential for a pilot in daily operations.

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David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: dhutter@njbiz.com.

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