State-of-the-Art Safety, Training, and Research Facility is Planned for PA

Aug. 12, 2022
The facility will improve safety in the state

A state-of-the-art facility envisioned to benefit emergency responders, transportation technology companies, and research institutions while supporting the local economy has been planned.

Announced by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's (PennDOT) Secretary Yassmin Gramian on Thursday, PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC), and the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC) of Southwestern PA are partnering on site planning and design for the Pennsylvania Safety, Transportation and Research Track (PennSTART).

"As highway safety and transportation technologies advance, our teams, first responders, students and researchers should also be learning about these tools," Gramian said in a press release. "PennSTART will provide access to innovative technologies for testing and education."

According to the press release, PennSTART's aim is to address safety, training, and research needs in six key areas: traffic incident management (TIM); tolling and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technology; work zones; commercial vehicles; transit vehicles; and AV and other emerging technologies.

"Providing real-world training for Pennsylvania's 54,000 incident responders is crucial to enhance the safety of our highways for responders and travelers alike — especially as we continue to see more speeding and distracted-driving incidents," said PTC Chief Technology Officer Robert Taylor. "Fact is, the classroom alone cannot effectively prepare police, fire, medical, and towing personnel for the dangers they encounter at an incident scene. PennSTART will serve as Pennsylvania's first statewide hub for Traffic Incident Management training so these heroes can experience lifelike incidents in a controlled environment."

Technologies for testing and training in the facility include TIM training, testing and hands-on training for new ITS, tolling and signal equipment, safe, simulated training for higher-speed and mobile work-zone operations, and safety certification training opportunities among others.

The PennSTART facility represents the next in a series of steps that PennDOT, the PTC, and other partners have taken to improve TIM. In 2016, the agencies held a TIM Summit with state agencies and dozens of responder groups to discuss and establish policies and partnerships to improve TIM in Pennsylvania. In January 2017, the Pennsylvania Traffic Incident Management Enhancement (PennTIME) initiative was formed, with five commonwealth agencies formalizing an interagency agreement in 2018. Since PennTIME was formed, over 20,000 responders have been trained in TIM compared to roughly 6,000 before PennTIME, ranking Pennsylvania third in the country for the total number of responders trained.

Building on the growing technology and AV industries in the region, PennSTART also aims to support jobs and business development. A report issued in September 2021Opens In A New Window by the RIDC and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce found that "the estimated direct employment footprint of Pittsburgh's autonomy sector totals over 6,300 jobs" with "…an additional 8,604 full- or part-time indirect jobs" in the region dependent on the industry. The direct-employment footprint alone provides "an estimated $651 million in labor income, [and] $34.7 million in state and local tax revenues."

"Our region already has a thriving cluster of autonomous technology companies and is one of the national leaders in the development of driverless vehicles," said Donald F. Smith, Jr., RIDC President. "Today's PennSTART announcement is the fulfillment of one of the recommendations outlined in a joint RIDC—Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce report on how to facilitate the growth and impact of the industry. Southwestern Pennsylvania has a long history of successful public-private partnerships to advance our region, and we are gratified to be able to partner with PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission to develop this project as a regional asset that will continue to attract companies, jobs and investment."

Additionally, the facility will meet one of the recommendations in the same regional report: "A multi-purpose, multi-user test and demonstration facility for autonomous mobile systems to be located within the City of Pittsburgh or close adjacent municipality that is highly convenient for use by the existing cluster of businesses, the university cluster in Oakland, and emerging entrepreneurial enterprises."


Source: PennDOT

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