As driverless cars get closer to market, state announces new initiative to bring more tech to roadways |

As driverless cars get closer to market, state announces new initiative to bring more tech to roadways

Attendees of a state transportation conference snap photos of a BMW i8 parked outside of the Grand Hyatt Denver.
Scott Franz

— Hundreds of engineers, elected officials and state transportation leaders gathered in Denver on Wednesday to plan for what many expect will be the greatest shift to the country’s ground transportation system since Americans traded their horses and buggies for Model Ts.

Attendees of the Colorado Transportation Matters summit saw a Volvo advertisement showing a Swedish woman sketching artwork in the driver’s seat as her SUV navigated a busy highway without her help.

They took selfies and oohed and ahed next to a futuristic, all-electric BMW that boasts 387 horsepower.

They learned there is a small, simulated city in Ann Arbor Michigan dedicated to the testing of autonomous cars. And they learned that, soon, autonomous cars and vehicles that can talk to roads, stoplights and other cars won’t be science fiction.

“The integration of technology is changing more rapidly than most of us can keep up with,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said before the Colorado Department of Transportation announced a multi-year initiative called RoadX, which will aim to incorporate new technology into this state’s transportation system.

Hours before the initiative was announced, Hickenlooper took test drives in a couple of high-tech cars, including a Corvette he was able to steer just by moving his head,

Shailen Bhatt, executive director of CDOT, said the state’s investment in RoadX and the new technology will help reduce congestion, accidents and fatalities on area roadways.

He said the state can no longer follow its previous model of merely widening roads and spending a lot of money in infrastructure improvements in the process.

“We can’t build our way out of this congestion,” Bhatt said, noting there is a $1 billion annual shortfall for transportation funding.

RoadX will partner with the private sector to look into several types of technologies, including virtual guard rails and smart car lane markings that could keep high-tech cars from veering over the center lines or off the road.

The state will also test “connected cars” and “platooning,” a system by which trucks using new technology could travel on interstates just six inches apart from bumper to bumper, reducing fuel consumption.

The state has committed $20 million to the first year of the RoadX initiative.

“It’s our vision for a future where cars don’t crash, where there is no congestion,” Bhatt said.

Bhatt acknowledged this won’t happen overnight, and there may be a few years of trial-and-error with new technology.

The summit included a panel discussion with Anthony Foxx, U.S. secretary of transportation.

The heads of the departments of transportation in Michigan and California also spoke about how their states are embracing new technology to make roads safer.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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