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Tech principal member of road consortium

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 08 - October 13, 1994

Virginia Tech has been voted a principal member of a General Motors Corp.-led consortium that won a grant last week to develop the highways of the 21st century. Virginia Tech transportation fellow Ray Pethel made the announcement Tuesday at a meeting of the Greater Blacksburg Chamber of Commerce.

Originally, Tech was an associate member of the $200-million National Automated Highway System Consortium, a step below GM, Delco Electronics, Caltrans, Bechtel, Parsons Brinkerhoff, Hughes Aircraft, the California Department of Transportation, Carnegie Mellon University, and Martin Marietta.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Frederico Pena awarded the seven-year contract to the consortium last week in a ceremony on the Mall in Washington. The contract is primarily financed by a $150 million federal grant.

Pethel said he expects Virginia Tech to be included in all consortium activities and to receive between $15 million and $20 million over the next five years as a share of the consortium funds.

As a result of the consortium award, Gov. George Allen has promised to build the first two miles of the "smart" road that will link Blacksburg to Interstate 81. He said the project will be financed from the state's general road fund. The road will serve as a research lab for an automated vehicle that must be demonstrated by 1997.

Allen, who wrote to GM suggesting that the smart road could be a test bed for consortium research, was in Blacksburg Tuesday for a briefing.

Previous administrations supported the proposed six-mile link, but said it should be paid for from sources such as state bonds. Stressing the importance of the road as an economic development tool, Allen said it is "a tremendous opportunity for Virginia."

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "smart-highway backers say the combination of the high-tech vehicle test road and Virginia Tech's reputation as a leading intelligent-vehicle research center will be a magnet for companies seeking to test the technologies and manufacture the resulting products. The highway supporters say such development would give Southwest Virginia a shot at a big piece of what is expected to be a $300-billion industry in the next decade."

According to Rep. Rick Boucher, D-9th, "Tens of millions of dollars will be expended in the New River Valley for research projects associated with this leading-edge effort."

The smart road will have fiber optics, sensors, and other instruments built into the pavement and median to test and operate the intelligent vehicles.

The vehicles will carry sensor and communication devices, including automated collision avoidance, steering, throttle, and braking-control systems. These technologies should essentially allow the cars to drive themselves.

Pethel said construction on the first segment of the road will likely begin in late 1996. He estimated that, by the year 2015, the road will be a $50 million, 5.8 mile, four-lane highway handling 20,000 vehicles a day.