Show me the money: How to fund connected transportation projects
Editor's Note: This piece was written by Kyle Connor, Transportation Industry Principal at Cisco. The opinions represented in this piece are independent of Smart Cities Dive's views.
The promise of completely connected transportation systems that will make cities more efficient, safe and sustainable is undoubtedly exciting. We are already seeing successful pilot programs involving internet-enabled sensors and devices that connect transportation infrastructures (mass transit systems, street lights, parking garages and more) to highly autonomous vehicles and just about anything in between.
For example, New York City is connecting thousands of traffic lights to the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as taxis, freight vehicles and MTA buses. By broadcasting real-time data to and from these assets, the city aims to prioritize traffic flows, preempt traffic signals for quicker emergency responders and provide real-time information on the availability of bus service. As more cities look to roll out similar pilots, state and local governments always face one big question: How do we pay for this?
As with any new technology implementation, there is going to be an upfront cost. The good news is that there are numerous federal grant programs specifically for connected transportation projects. Among the areas covered by the grants are connected vehicle technology (including systems for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications); dynamic signaling systems to reduce congestion; signage and design features that facilitate autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle technologies; cybersecurity elements to protect safety-critical systems, and many more. These programs include:
- Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA): INFRA is a $1.56 billion competitive program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) that targets U.S. economic revitalization through infrastructure investment. The program intends to address critical issues facing our nation’s highways and bridges.
- Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER): TIGER supports state and local applicants focused on highway, bridge, public transportation, rail, ports and intermodal projects. TIGER specifically seeks innovative approaches to transportation safety, particularly regarding automated vehicles and detecting, mitigating and documenting safety risks.
- The Federal Aid Highway Program: Under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), this program has several annual grants and competitive award programs. One initiative is the FAST Act Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program (ATCM), which awards $12 million annually to up to 10 winning proposals (each) for innovative uses of transportation technologies to reduce traffic congestion and emissions, improve multimodal systems and more.
- Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program (ATCMTD): This program supports the development of model deployment sites for large scale installation and operation of advanced transportation technologies to improve safety, efficiency, system performance and infrastructure return on investment.
Five steps to a winning grant proposal
Of course, tapping into these programs’ funds will require submitting a comprehensive, compelling proposal. Here are a few pieces of advice for crafting a winning proposal that lands your transportation team a grant:
1. Address your city’s unique challenges: Speak to your city or state’s unique transportation challenges that will be solved by introducing new technology. Do you have unmanageable traffic congestion? If there is an increasing number of automobile accidents, propose that your city would utilize the funds to invest in technologies that enable connected vehicles to communicate with each other and the infrastructure around them. Through these connections, vehicles can receive alerts about hazards on the road, avoid collisions and even be advised to slow down upon entering school zones. These capabilities not only help reduce collisions and fatalities on roadways, but also cut costs. Statistics show that the per-capita cost of an accident for each U.S. state ranges from $600 to $1,200. This includes costs associated with first responders, traffic congestion, secondary accidents and more.
2. Share measurable, future benefits: Grantors want to see and understand how their investment will benefit the greater good. Often, dividends will be paid in the form of a city’s improved access to health services, education and other important services through reliable and affordable methods of transportation. For example, will funding a more connected mass transit system lead to a more productive, healthier workforce? To have the best chance at securing grant support, ensure your proposal clearly bridges the gap between the initial investment and how the transportation project will have a measurable impact on the community.
3. Loop-in a diverse team: To put together an effective proposal, bring together as many departments as possible, such as traffic engineering, public safety, fleet operations for government-owned vehicles and other internal stakeholders – essentially, anyone who has a hand in the region’s transportation systems. This will help you pinpoint new opportunities, fill gaps that may have gone unnoticed, spur innovation and attain the scale needed for large transportation initiatives.
4. Seek outside help: It is a great idea to reach out to the private sector, especially since your internal team may not fully understand all the ins and outs of advanced connected transportation technologies and their potential use cases. Look to third parties such as technology providers, consultants and academia – some companies even have whole teams dedicated to helping public sector officials with grant proposals. These partners can also assist with designing your initiative and provide information on the types of technologies that will need to be involved in the proposed project.
5. Be specific: Above all, be as specific as possible throughout your proposal. For example, when the DOT selected the City of Columbus, OH as the winner in its Smart City Challenge, it was because the city’s proposal included a highly comprehensive, integrated plan. The plan addressed specific challenges in commercial, freight and downtown districts and described how new technologies, including connected infrastructure, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, an integrated data platform, autonomous vehicles and more, would help solve these issues.
As we continue our journey toward making more connected transportation systems a reality, city and state governments should tap into as many federal grant programs as possible. With ample funding, they can innovate faster and bring their cities one step closer to enjoying all the positive benefits – greater efficiency, safety and more – that connected transportation systems have to offer.