Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Torgersen, Allen break ground for new Smart Road

By Netta S. Smith

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 35 - July 17, 1997

Governor George Allen joined President Paul Torgersen and other university and state officials last week at groundbreaking ceremonies for the first segment of the Smart Road.
The two-mile stretch is the first part of a six-mile road that will be constructed in the Blacksburg area. The only one of its kind in the nation, it will serve as a test bed for advanced transportation technologies. Sensors and fiber-optic cable will be incorporated in the road bed and the test facility will have equipment that can simulate a variety of inclement-weather conditions.
"Smart Road is part of our administration's effort to promote technological entrepreneurism across all of Virginia," Allen said. "The groundbreaking of this innovative laboratory highway signals a new, broader approach to the business of transportation that will carry Virginia forward well into the next century."
Torgersen praised the cooperative efforts leading to construction of the Smart Road. "Only through regionally based partnerships or partnerships between the public and private sectors will our communities prosper and grow," he said.
Construction and testing on the road is a joint venture between groups in the public and private sectors. The Virginia department of Transportation designed and is overseeing construction of the road. Virginia Tech's Center for Transportation Research will manage much of the research on the road. Volvo and Reynolds Metals will be among the first companies to test their products.
The road is designed to be constructed in phases, with each phase serving as a test bed for research. A $17.3-million contract was awarded last month to Vecellio & Grogan Inc. for the first construction phase, and construction has begun.
By summer 1998, nearly one mile of the Smart Road is expected to be ready for initial research purposes. By the year 2000, a fully equipped two-mile test bed is planned to be in use. Construction plans for the remaining 3.7 miles will unfold in phases based on traffic demand and emerging technologies.
According to University Transportation Fellow Ray Pethtel, the Smart Road "will put the university and the commonwealth on the cutting edge of transportation research."
The test facility will include all-weather testing using 72 snow-making towers capable of producing fog, snow, and rain conditions; variable lighting technologies to study the effects on driving visibility; and advanced wireless and fiber-optic communications systems.
"This project is also about economic development, about creating jobs for our region," Torgersen said.
The Center for Transportation Research is the largest single research center at Virginia Tech. It employs 60 researchers, faculty members, students, and technicians, and has more than $13 million of research under contract.
"This center has rapidly grown to become one of our leading lights on campus," Torgersen said. "To me, that is an indication of the kind of economic impact this project will have on the area. When in full bloom, we fully expect to see dozens of firms engaged in research on the Smart Road."
The Smart Road is a component of the state's Smart Travel program. The program is designed to implement practical, consumer-oriented products and services that bring sensible improvements for transportation users, create a climate of economic growth, and improve the quality of life. Virginia is the first state to group such initiatives under one state-wide, inter-agency umbrella and then aggressively to market the benefits of the program to select audiences.
Other component of the Smart Travel program include Smart Traffic Centers in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia; which use advanced technology to monitor traffic, keep it moving, and inform motorists of traffic conditions; a Smart Traveler service in the Washington, D.C., area, which provides commuters with up-to-date information on all modes of transportation; Smart Clearance, which allows trucks equipped with transponders to bypass weigh stations; Smart Tag, which allows transponder-equipped vehicles on the Dulles Toll Road and Coleman Bridge to have tolls deducted without stopping; and Smart Response, Virginia's Emergency Operations Center in Richmond that monitors road conditions, emergencies, and incidents state-wide and provides information via a toll-free number and the Internet.