Tampa receives $2.4 million contract for transportation research


The future of transportation may be here sooner than expected, in the form of vehicles that can communicate with each other, telling drivers when it is safe to change lanes and delivering real-time warnings on traffic hazards.

Last month, Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) was awarded a $2.4 million contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation to gather data and eventually implement a connected highway system along the Selmon Expressway. The goal is to provide drivers, pedestrians and traffic operation centers with information that will relieve congested roads and reduce travel time.

THEA has chosen USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) to take the lead with performance measurement and evaluation.

“(They) will be responsible for setting up and evaluating the new technology and what benefits we expect to see or not see through data analysis,” Robert Frey, THEA planning director, said.

Frey said CUTR was chosen because of its national reputation, familiarity with the local transit system and the objectivity it brought as an academic institution.

“They’ve been involved with us from the beginning, helping THEA position itself for the (contract),” Frey said.

CUTR’s responsibilities will include evaluating the efficiency of the transportation investments. 

“We’ve worked with real world problems, economic impact, analysis and other initiatives that they needed performed,” said Stephen Reich, CUTR Transportation Program Evaluation and Economic Analysis director. “CUTR will be performing the evaluation of the effectiveness of the deployment of the connected roadway technologies. We’ll be involved in the study design and requirements and measurements to see how the technology works.”

Over the next 12 months, CUTR will be putting together a team of consultants who will assist in assembling the technology that will be deployed. Over a period of 24 months, the devices will be put in the field while the team collects the data.

“This could be an ongoing activity to constantly update and see what impacts there are,” Reich said.

One of the concept ideas is to put devices onboard busses that could talk to the traffic infrastructure in order to create a reliable transit system. As a bus approaches a light, the device will signal a light change, giving the bus priority. 

The vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-pedestrian and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication is supposed to relieve congested traffic and have a positive impact on air quality. Alerted to congestion, accidents and approaching emergency vehicles through smart phone or smart car apps, drivers will have all the information they need to avoid hazards. 

The project first began with a safety deployment in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

After the first planning year is over and THEA has received approval for their concept of operations and deployment plan, they will enter into another contract that could provide them with as much as $17 million. New York City and the state of Wyoming were the only other contracts given. 

According to Frey, the transportation industry is moving toward additional connected highway systems. THEA’s goal is to see what benefits the system offers and push that information out to other jurisdiction, states and eventually the rest of the country.

“It’s exciting that it’s not just a demonstration, but an actual deployment applied to real world problems,” Reich said.