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Tolling Points

I-95 Express Lanes in Virginia Host Successful Cooperative Automation Trials

By: 
Bill Cramer

One of the most successful managed lane projects in the United States has taken its place as a test bed for some of the most important concepts on the road to introducing autonomous and connected vehicles on American roadways.

The trials combined speed harmonization with connected automation technologies, such as platooning and cooperative merging on the managed lanes, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reported late last year, in a five-minute YouTube video that summarized its work with IBTTA member Transurban and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Transurban said the I-95 Express Lanes in northern Virginia were chosen to host the trials “for the road’s reversible, barrier-separated configuration, which provide for several hours of uninterrupted, high-speed trials on lanes with highway attributes,” wrote Lev Pinelis, Director of Operational Innovation at Transurban in North America.

The project involved five connectivity-enhanced, Level 1 vehicles that were escorted by state police during the trial, and supported by Transurban’s roadway operations and maintenance teams.

Doubling Vehicle Throughput

The FHWA video pointed to the powerful potential of connected vehicle technology—and the staged transition from field testing to commercialization.

“By integrating communications and sensor infrastructure into the driving experience, cooperative vehicle highway systems aim to mitigate congestion and increase overall system performance, ultimately enhancing safety, mobility, emissions, fuel savings, and efficiency,” it stated.

“Our simulations have suggested we can get almost twice as many vehicles through if all the vehicles and infrastructure are equipped with these technologies,” said Bob Ferlis, Technical Director with FHWA’s Office of Operations Research & Development.

Expecting the Unexpected

A key objective of the trial was to assess unpredictable vehicle interactions in a mixed communication and automation environment that was far more challenging than a controlled test facility. The research team also looked at scenarios where multiple cooperative vehicle applications worked in tandem—like allowing a vehicle to merge behind a platoon at variable speeds, with a speed harmonization application interacting with the roadway and sending signals directly to the vehicle.

Transurban saw the trials as a testament to the sophistication of the I-95 roadway itself.

“The managed lanes here are some of the most technology dense roads in the world,” said Rob Deans, Vice President of Technology at Transurban North America. That capability “creates a very safe environment to operate it. So you’re on a real road, a real, actual road, but with no traffic, and if you want real traffic or live traffic, we have microwave vehicle detectors out there, we have AID [automatic incident detection] cameras, we have fixed cameras. And so you’re operating in a very safe environment.”

The successful trial was one measure that the era of transportation agencies building their way out of congestion is “waning quickly,” FHWA concluded. The test results will now be incorporated into the ongoing effort to encourage automakers to commercialize cooperative applications.

Connected vehicles are just one part of a technology-enabled future that is already transforming surface transportation. Stay up to speed by attending IBTTA’s Annual Technology Summit, March 31-April 2, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

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