Tampa Bay may test futuristic "smart road" system

Tampa Bay may test smart road system

Tampa, Florida -- Smart roads that turn red lights green for you and help you avoid crashes may be coming to Tampa Bay.

A program to test this amazing new technology could be approved for the Channel District in eastern Downtown Tampa by the end of this month.

On smart roads, "connected cars" talk to the street system and to each other electronically, using sensors and cameras.

Someone's losing control up ahead? You get an instant crash warning from a device in your car. Same for wrong-way drivers or pedestrians.

Red lights get coordinated and timed to make stops as short as possible, keeping everyone's car moving more.

The Downtown Tampa effort would start out as a test, but as car companies build-in connected vehicle technology, all of the cars on a road can match speeds -- fitting more cars into less space.

That means less construction, because we won't need as many lanes.

"Because your car can talk to the car in front of it, and it doesn't have the human factor, they can get closer together -- both front and back and side-to-side," the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority's Sue Chrzan told me.

This will start out as a cutting-edge test, so at the beginning, typical drivers will not be getting these alerts -- it's only for testing out the technology. But expect that to change in the years ahead.Chrzan's agency runs the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway; they're hoping to test out this future driving tech in the Channelside area, where the Selmon meets Meridian Avenue, and extend it into neighboring streets like Kennedy Boulevard.

"Probably won't affect the average person right now. But, eventually, we'll be able to link up all of the signals and the pedestrians, and all of that kind of stuff. So it will make it a safer walk, bike, and drive downtown," Chrzan said.

This is big for Tampa Bay because it can bring more technology research and tech jobs here. USF has a whole institute that studies transportation and legal issues -- CUTR, the Center for Urban Transportation Research.

Florida is one of only a handful of states where it's legal to test automated cars on the road, and the Selmon Expressway is a federal government-approved testing ground for connected vehicles and automated driverless cars.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority has applied for a $17 million federal grant to get the money they need to design and build this small test network of smart roads. We'll know whether they got the money by the end of this month.


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