Ending Gridlock Paves the Road for Connected Vehicles

We’re on the brink of a connected-vehicle revolution.

With the proper investments today, we could be right around the corner from a tomorrow in which connected vehicles (CVs) and a network of smart roads and highways bring us a safer, smarter, greener and more economically-productive surface transportation system.

CVs are wirelessly connected to the Internet and to other smart devices — such as your phone or tablet — inside and near the vehicle. Together the vehicle works with those devices and networks to connect the driver and passengers to services and devices outside the car such as other cars, homes, offices or infrastructure.

For CVs to reach their potential we need to start upgrading our traditional public roads and highways to intelligent transportation systems (ITS). Some elements of ITS are already being implemented on public highways across the county:

“Traditionally manned toll booths are being replaced with sensors that read license plates. Radio receivers are being stationed along freeways to measure traffic volume. Apps are currently being marketed that communicate with parking meters to monitor vacancies. The department of transportation is already implementing predictive weather sensors that can communicate advisement to drivers. Chances are, you’re already driving past these innocuous devices, and benefiting from them.”

And as those ITS networks improve and advance, CVs will advance along with them.

Right now conventional automobiles account for 86 percent of all transportation in this country, with passengers’ logging more than 4 trillion miles in in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The vast majority of those vehicles are rolling on infrastructure that’s outdated, inefficient and, in some cases, crumbling.

Let’s look at some of the facts:

  • Deficiencies in America’s surface transportation systems cost households and businesses an estimated $130 billion in 2010 in travel time delays, safety costs and environmental costs
  • According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” 42 percent of the nation’s major urban highways remain congested, “costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually”
  • According to a report by Economic Development Research Group, deteriorating infrastructure will cost the U.S. economy $210 billion by 2020 – an increase of 82 percent – if present trends continue. By 2040 the cost will have increased by 351 percent, to $520 billion.

You don’t need a degree in economics to know we can’t afford let our infrastructure fall apart.

Partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. must end if we are going to bring our infrastructure into the 21st century.

Democrats and Republicans agree Congress must direct more federal funds to infrastructure, but where lawmakers can’t agree is on how to get it done.

The most obvious source of new transportation funding is a raise in the federal gas tax, which has remained 18.4 cents-per-gallon since 1993, despite major increases in vehicle fuel efficiency. A recent Washington Post editorial called a federal gas tax hike a “ready and reasonable way to pay for the nation’s infrastructure.” However, few in Congress – Republican or Democrat – want to be accused of voting in favor of a tax hike before the next election cycle. As a result, any serious talk of raising the gas tax continues to stall.

Another option for funding the necessary repairs and upgrades to the nation’s infrastructure includes taxing the repatriated earnings U.S. companies are currently hoarding in overseas bank accounts. According to Bloomberg News, American-based companies are stashing $2.1 trillion in profits in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes back home. If the top seven U.S. companies keeping profits in low-tax overseas countries brought their profits home, “their combined tax liability would come to more than $90 billion,” according to Bloomberg.

In the meantime, Congress continues to apply Band-Aids to the nation’s transportation system by passing short-term funding bills aimed at keeping current infrastructure projects moving forward. One lawmaker recently likened the passage of an emergency infrastructure-funding bill to “slapping silly putty on a cracked bridge.”

ITS and CVs could make our 4 million miles of public roads and highways safer, less congested, more environmentally friendly, and more economically productive with networked CVs’ cutting travel times, improving traffic flow and reducing accidents.

We all know our nation’s infrastructure is the backbone and lifeblood of our economy, but we also know it is in desperate need of adequate federal funding. If CVs and smart highways are going to move from the realm of science fiction and into reality, then we need to start laying foundations.