Cities Testing Connected Roads, Smart Pavements

Are connected roads the answer to the country's infrastructure problem? With integrated technology, these smart streets may be able to pay for themselves.

America's infrastructure problem is a hot-button topic in nearly every major city across the country, and it's always the same: too much damage and not enough funds to fix it. But, through the use of connected roads, Tim Sylvester thinks he can create a solution that won't cost taxpayers a dime.

Sylvester's company, Integrated Roadways, is moving forward with pilot projects in two states that will test connected roads technology integrations with existing city data systems, an idea he has been trying to bring to city governments since 2012.

Not only would these connected roads be financially self-sustaining in theory, they would also provide traffic data to city officials, provide real-time updates to traffic vulnerabilities as well as keep residents safer on a road designed to move cars efficiently.

Investors Would Pick Up the Tab Instead of the Government

From embedded coils that would charge electric cars as they drive to technology sensors that relay vehicle counts, weight and speeds to city traffic engineers, the possibilities are endless when it comes to the types of technology connected roads could contain. That creative leeway is what Sylvester is banking technology investors will want to cash in on if the idea takes off.

With technology companies pumping money into city infrastructure that will feature and utilize their brands, tax money would play a less significant role.

The reason that we’ve had the circular discussion for decades now about paying for roads is that it’s always been a back and forth between taxes and tolls,” Sylvester said in an interview with Government Technology magazine. “There’s never been a voice for using technology.”

While the plan sounds great on paper, the problem lies with the bigger picture. Without a significant amount of connected roads in enough cities across the country, the likelihood of them becoming self-sustaining anytime soon is small, according to Bob Bennett, the chief innovation officer for Kansas City, one of the pilot cities for Integrated Roadways.

"Until such time as a sufficient number of connected vehicles on the road, or the technology that is included in the road itself, links to the applications people already have on their phones and get monetized by corporate organizations, I think that’s probably not likely,” Bennett said.

Smart Sidewalks Provide Unlimited Wi-Fi to Residents

In 2015, the United Kingdom installed a 31 mile-long connected pavement providing the citizens of Chesham with unlimited Wi-Fi with speeds up to 166 mbs. The promotional sidewalk was installed and sponsored by Virgin Mobile, and the company said it is committed to expanding public Wi-Fi throughout the country.

It is literally public Wi-Fi under your feet," Virgin Media Director Gregor McNeil said. "We want to build more networks like this across the UK and encourage more forward-thinking councils just like Chesham to get in touch."

Sylvester's Integrated Roadways also has plans for connected roads that allow for fiber-optic cable and high speed internet which will not only provide public Wi-Fi, but could help spread access to high speeds in rural areas.

With connected roads and smart pavements, everything from air pollution sensors to charging stations and solar-powered technology is a possibility.

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