23 March 2023
by Christopher Carey
The US Department of Transportation has announced the first round of grants through the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program, totalling over US$94 million for 59 projects across the country.
The competitive grant programme – established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – provides state, local and tribal governments with US$500 million over five years to use technology to create safer, more equitable and innovative transportation systems.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the grants will “foster innovations that improve people’s day-to-day lives, making transportation safer, more reliable, more efficient and more sustainable.”
Funding will initially be directed towards projects that boost road safety, improve transit reliability and use technology like drones and sensors for transportation projects.
The maximum award per project was US$2 million.
Philadelphia received this amount for a digital Right-of-Way (ROW) and Mobility Improvement Project which seeks to address two major city challenges: scarcity of ROW space and inadequate information about ROW users.
Funding will support digitising street, sidewalk and kerbside space within the project area and developing an online application to communicate ROW information to users.
Lessons from the demonstration are expected to promote a greater understanding of how data can be “operationally institutionalised” and used to improve kerb usage on a national scale.
“This funding will allow the city more capacity to improve ROW management through data and technology,” said Akshay Malik, Philadelphia’s Smart Cities Director.
“This project will help develop new data standards to map ROW in more detail and test new ways to digitally manage the ROW through a pilot in Center City, improving safety for drivers and pedestrians.”
Several other projects received the maximum funding allocation.
Detroit will use sensors to create smart intersections by using existing traffic cameras to deploy artificial intelligence software to “predict and prevent traffic accidents” in the city.
Los Angeles is integrating transit trip planning with event ticketing for major activities, including the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
New Jersey’s Department of Transportation will use the funding for sensors to address wrong-way driving, while New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to launch an app to allow visually impaired subway and bus customers to safely navigate their transit trips.
Harris County, Texas received funding for sensors for a new flood warning system and Cleveland, Ohio was awarded US$1.8 million for smart traffic signals to provide the right of way to emergency vehicles.
Three tribal nations in North Dakota and a project in Virginia’s Eastern Shore are using drone technology for medical care and equipment deliveries.
Massachusetts is also using drones and sensors to monitor and analyse railroad infrastructure threatened by ground water variability, while New York State will use US$1.5 million for drones to inspect infrastructure along a major highway.
USDOT said that the first year of the programme was oversubscribed with US$6 of applications for every US$1 available for grants.
The next round of funding is expected to be released in autumn 2023, with US$100 million allocated.
Buttigieg told The Verge this week that not every project funded under the SMART grant programme “is going to prove out”.
“But that’s okay,” he said. “That’s part of the process.”
Image: City of Philadelphia