I have worked in the traffic and transportation field for over 30 years and have been fortunate to enjoy positive, encouraging, and challenging work experiences in both the public and private sectors. My work has ranged from traffic signal timing to managing maintenance workforces, and I’ve had numerous interactions with other transportation professionals, elected officials, and with the public - who we work to serve.
While I have seen the state of our industry change over the years with new technologies and approaches coming and going, there has never been a time like we are currently in as it relates to traffic and transportation. And these changes are forcing increased interaction and relationships between public agencies’ traffic engineering and information technology organizations.
For most of my career, my colleagues and I focused on developing and implementing traffic management strategies using traffic control devices like signals, signs, and pavement markings. Now we are increasingly looking at technology like cameras and dynamic message signs to manage the growing congestion on our nation’s roadways.
However, the essentially simultaneous introduction of connected and autonomous transportation technological efforts, known as Cooperative Automated Transportation (CAT) is markedly - and rapidly - reshaping the world of traffic and transportation.
"With continued positive discussions, successful partnerships and recognition that OEMs and IOOs share a desire to improve safety and mobility, I am confident that we are up to the challenge of successfully implementing an increasingly automated and connected transportation future"
It is a simple online search to find any number of pundits willing to opine on what a fully connected and automated transportation future may look like.
There are so many driving issues, potential disruptors, and new technologies that could impact an automated transportation future. It makes for a fascinating conversation.
However, we are about five years or so into a 50-year transition. And transitions are messy. If you’ve ever been part of a firm undergoing a corporate acquisition – regardless of which side your firm was on – you understand “messy.” This CAT one, so far, is messy.
Even early in this transition, several issues contribute to the messiness. For one, technological promises have not always been fully realized (from a variety of stakeholders). Second, the public’s trust in such technology is not strong. And third, the relationship between the automotive industry (known as OEMs, for Original Equipment Manufacturers) and the industry that builds and maintains the nation’s roads (IOOs, for Infrastructure Owners and Operators) continues its development.
For over 100 years, the two industries—OEM and IOO—have existed in barely-connected worlds, though they share a symbiotic relationship. That long-term relationship is undergoing a remarkable reconfiguration and deepening, even as the technologies that force the relationship between the two industries are only now coming into better focus. Numerous committees and forums are working to bring the OEM and IOO communities together. As Operations Director of the Georgia Department of Transportation (an IOO), I enjoy relationships with individuals representing several major automakers (OEMs) and am fascinated by the insights I’m getting into their businesses. At GDOT, we are proving our sincerity - our desire - to solve problems (after all, isn’t that what engineers do?). And a willingness to work together.
But, lurking beneath the surface are two issues that challenge this relationship-building: OEMs are in a race with each other to develop production-ready automation. Consequently, they are reluctant to share information in any depth with anyone – including an IOO. And, on the IOO side, there is the issue of having the necessary resources to move quickly enough to do enough of the right things to enhance the transportation infrastructure (including the information technology aspect of IOO organizations) for such technical advances.
Those two big issues challenge the deepening relationship.
Yes, transitions are messy. But with continued positive discussions, successful partnerships, and recognition that OEMs and IOOs share a desire to improve safety and mobility, I am confident that we are up to the challenge of bridging the gap on the road to an increasingly automated and connected future.