The future of roads and what connectivity is capable of is coming to fruition on Virginia's Interstate 66.
The northern Virginia interstate is being redeveloped as a multimodal expressway. Commuters will be able to see real-time traffic data, both on highway message boards and inside connected vehicles, along with dynamic tolling lanes that offer drivers options along the always-shifting spectrum of speed, efficiency, and cost.
“We will be communicating, in real time, the state of all of those on and off ramps … to every vehicle that can receive them, and providing that information to the control center, and providing that information to the relevant message boards on the highway,” said Adrian Talbot, who heads the Centre of Excellence for Mobility and Digital Infrastructure at Ferrovial. Ferrovial is the transportation technology company behind the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project in Virginia.
The project will utilize a network of cameras and LiDAR sensors on ramps and other areas on the 22.5-mile stretch of highway to monitor the traffic flow designed to serve not only tolling lanes or "managed lanes" but also traffic management technology to give preference for transit and emergency vehicles. Protected multi-use paths for cyclists and park-and-ride lots equipped with electric vehicle chargers are also included in the plans for the project.
The $2.1 billion project began in 2017, and the new express lanes are expected to open in December. I-66 Express Mobility Partners Holdings LLC, set up by Ferrovial, operates as the private entity working with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to design, develop, and manage the roadway. A main funding source for the project will be the revenue-generating toll lanes, keep in mind though that the road also includes free general use lanes, that are not part of the tolling network.
“I think the benefits of public-private partnerships come in many shapes and forms. Obviously, one of them is the lack of pressure on the public purse through the deployment of private funding,” said Talbot.
The outcome, he added, “is going to provide a much more balanced and beneficial solution for the long run.”
Transportation thought leaders say today’s infrastructure must be planned for emerging technology like connected vehicles or electric vehicles (EV), and with an eye toward helping highways operate more efficiently.
Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray, a transportation technology innovation testbed in Georgia, sees roadways as energy generators, deploying solar installations in right of ways as well as vehicle charging innovations like in-road charging.
“This kind of solar-powered EV charging and solar-powered hydrogen hubs are probably going to be pretty common for us in the 2050 horizon,” said Kelly in a recent interview with GovTech.com.
These are the kinds of advancements Ferrovial is already envisioning for the I-66 project, with in-pavement charging being a possibility in a decade or two when pavement needs to be rehabbed or replaced.
“This is probably maybe 10, 12 or 15 years away. That is a good opportunity for target for some of those longer-term upgrades,” said Talbot. “If we could deploy in-road charging that gives a lot of convenience back to the road users. But that is more longer term.”