Best practices to support the arrival of smart mobility for non-urban communities.
Ohio's 33 Smart Mobility Corridor demonstrates how smaller cities can leverage intelligent transportation technology to improve congestion, safety, and employment access.
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United States

The NW 33 Smart Mobility Corridor: Pursuing smart mobility in a suburban, exurban, and rural context


Central Ohio’s NW 33 Innovation Corridor Council of Governments (COG)—comprised of Union County, the City of Marysville, the Marysville – Union County Port Authority, and the City of Dublin—offers an encouraging example to small communities interested in attracting smart mobility research and development. In 2016, the COG was awarded the $6 million Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program grant (ATCMTD) by USDOT. Since then, the area has seen more than $200 million in additional investment for the development of the NW 33 Smart Mobility Corridor – a 35-mile strip of U.S. Route 33 designated as a proving ground for smart infrastructure and autonomous vehicles. Regional players such as Honda of America, The Ohio State University, and the Transportation Research Center proved valuable as assets and sources of funding, but just as valuable as assets were the region’s weather and development patterns.

New proposed activities for the project include smart infrastructure installation, autonomous and connected vehicle testing, and data collection and commercialization. The application highlighted Route 33’s weather exposure, the opportunity to test vehicles in a closed setting at the Transportation Research Center (TRC) as well as public roads, the ability to test in a variety of densities and environments, and the willing collaboration between state, county, and municipal entities to support the project’s complexity.

The following is a discrete list of elements which will combine to form the physical infrastructure of the US 33 Smart Corridor:
  1. Automated/Connected Vehicle Infrastructure-notably a redundant fiber optic cable loop, 62 roadside DSRC units, and roadside video equipment and sensors--to support automated and connected vehicles.
  2. Dynamic signal phasing and timing, with DSRC units installed in 32 intersections, including all of Marysville’s signal control lights and the balance in Dublin.
  3. A local smart network. This will include traffic signal equipment at all signalized intersections, pedestrian warning equipment at pedestrian crossings, and supporting IT and communications equipment including fiber optic cable and conduit and network devices.
  4. A connected test fleet of up to 1200 vehicles equipped with onboard DSRC units.
  5. A Pedestrian in Crosswalk Warning System in intersections identified by the COG.
  6. Connected vehicle applications (including Queue Warning and Speed Harmonization) to safely manage mobility in the event of accidents or weather conditions.
  7. Program management, maintenance and operations.

Lessons Learned

A blue-collar county of 55,000 residents is in the center of a proving ground for connected and automated vehicles. The COG's success is not an accident, but the result of following the best practices to attract investment. Non-urban communities serious about preparing for the future economy and serving its residents through smart mobility should consider the following steps, all modeled by Union County, the City of Marysville, and the City of Dublin.

Establish a vision. City and county officials began the conversation as early as 2014 to bring fiber optic cable to Route 33. At the time, the effort focused on maintaining competitiveness in an evolving economy, but the conversation resulted in a wider vision and therefore positioned Route 33 as a smart infrastructure hub and potential automated vehicle proving ground. The vision was grounded in its commitment to improving "congestion, safety, and employment access," but elastic enough to incorporate objectives of additional investments.

Develop public-private partnerships. None of the individual entities of the COG possessed all the necessary components to secure the ATCMTD grant. Union County, the Marysville – Union County Port Authority, the City of Marysville, and the City of Dublin each contributed significantly to the successful bid for the ATCMTD grant. The COG itself is comprised of municipalities but partnered with government agencies and the region's assets—some of them private—to actualize the implementation and management of the grant and its surrounding investments. Of important note – these communities compete with one another on day-to-day economic development activities, but they collaborate on a larger vision that cuts across regional assets. Today that means transportation and digital infrastructure, but tomorrow it could mean anything as the framework for cooperation is adaptable.

Take inventory of assets. Local assets are not limited to large manufacturing operations, research universities, or data centers, though these are useful. The COG positioned Route 33 as a location with four distinct seasons, municipalities of varying density, and a low cost of doing business. Communities in favor of embracing smart mobility initiatives ought to think deeply about what they have to offer, including basic characteristics of the area and what those local assets can contribute to the economic development, mobility and connectivity of the greater region.

Involve the state government. It's critical for municipalities with limited resources to engage state government for smart mobility projects. ODOT has been a critical partner with the COG since 2016 and has ensured that the COG's vision aligns with the state's, with positive results. The state of Ohio was quick to react to the ATCMTD grant. Within a month of the award, the state announced the creation of the Smart Mobility Corridor along with additional funds. The state government has continued to see the value of smart mobility research and development. On January 18, 2018, Governor John Kasich established DriveOhio by executive order, a "one-stop shop for researchers, developers and manufacturers to collaborate on autonomous and connected vehicle initiatives in Ohio." The center pulls members from prominent state organizations such as ODOT, the Department of Public Safety, and the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation to facilitate the attraction, retainment, and management of smart mobility activity throughout the state.

Apply for grants leveraging private sector investment. Grants are instrumental in establishing credibility as a smart mobility destination and attracting additional investment. The $6 million ATCMTD grant resulted in over $200 million in additional investments along Route 33 from the state of Ohio, Honda of America, The Ohio State University, and other sources. Private sector companies with an interest in smart mobility are key to augmenting the impact of public dollars. While the project/vision is in the early stage, a committed outreach campaign to existing businesses in the area to discover their objectives and how public infrastructure investment could amplify their market position is key to the success and sustainability of infrastructure over the long term.

Build a sustainable business model. While applying for grants is a crucial step to attract investment, a sustainable business model is critical to ensure that any progress made through investment stays in place. To pay for the operation and maintenance of smart mobility infrastructure long after the grant money evaporates, Community officials must develop open policy frameworks that encourage private sector involvement and enable reoccurring commercial revenue as well as donations of in-kind equipment and services. The digitization of transportation offers enormous opportunity to rethink the way transportation infrastructure is funded. Communities need to view themselves as data management service businesses to compete in the new economy. Creating a platform for digital commerce with open data at the center and a bias toward data monetization as the new currency will ensure a community's place in the smart mobility future.

Recognize the applications of smart mobility in a community. Not every community will employ smart mobility the same way. Urban areas may focus on congestion relief and maximizing existing road lanes while rural areas may leverage technology to improve farming techniques or mobility for elderly or disabled citizens. Recognizing the needs of the population and how smart infrastructure enabled by can potentially meet those needs is the first step in embracing a smart mobility future. Recognizing the implications of ignoring that future could prevent a community from falling decades behind, much like rural communities in the 1930's did when they lacked electricity. Today, electricity is a requirement for business and livelihood. In 50 years, smart mobility infrastructure will be considered likewise.