Gov. John Kasich, center, in light blue shirt, joined officials from the State of Ohio, Transportation Research Center, JobsOhio, DriveOhio, The Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Transportation for the groundbreaking Monday of the new SMARTCenter on the TRC grounds near East Liberty. The center will provide a research and development facility for autonomous vehicle technology.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)
State and local officials broke ground Monday on Transportation Research Center’s SMARTCenter to help develop and test technology for self-driving cars.
“This is a giant step forward in making Ohio the ‘go-to’ state for developing vehicles and smart transportation technologies of the future,” said Gov. John R. Kasich. “The SMARTCenter positions Ohio as the premier destination for researchers, developers and manufacturers to test, build and deploy advanced mobility solutions that will make our roads safer and less congested.”
The SMARTCenter is being described as a “state-of-the-art, automated and connected vehicle-testing facility.”
According to a release from TRC, the SMARTCenter is “designed to test advanced automotive and mobility technologies in a safe, secure and repeatable real-world environment before the vehicles are deployed on public roads and highways.”
Officials said the project will help save lives on the nation’s highways.
“The work TRC is doing will give automakers, software developers and technology companies a much-needed space to refine and perfect their innovations, which are vital in getting life-saving technologies to the market much sooner,” said Jim Barna, executive director for DriveOhio.
Jerry Wray, director for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said that while he knows zero crash fatalities is an impossible goal, it is worth the aim.
“Today we are here at the groundbreaking for the SMART Center and now we are looking forward,” he said. “We are looking to the future and saying what can we do to make this better. And when you bring infrastructure together with the vehicle, the potential is great.”
Barna said the center is, “an invaluable compliment to the work we are doing on the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, Smart Columbus and the other planned projects throughout the state of Ohio.”
Brett Roubinek, president and CEO of TRC, said the groundbreaking is the culmination of more than five years of planning. He said TRC clients are “pioneering the next innovations in the connected and automated space.”
He said the region is “well poised to be at the center of this transportation transformation.”
Officials said the project will also help develop Ohio’s image and economy.
Kristi Tanner, JobsOhio senior managing director of automotive, said the center and the region serves as “a magnet” for automotive and research companies. She said that she speaks with industry leaders, telling them about TRC, open-road testing on Route 33, Connected Marysville and Smart Columbus.
“What a great story to tell and by the time we are done telling that story, we don’t even have to ask them if they want to come check out Ohio,” said Tannger. “They are asking us if they can come and take a look at what we have to offer.”
Kasich said that Ohio needs to increase its “cool factor” and facilities like TRC and the SMARTCenter do that. He said Ohio needs to use these facilities to “capture peoples’ imaginations.”
“This is going to be like the coolest place to go with your kids,” Kasich said.
He acknowledged that many in the public fear automated vehicles, but said that is where transportation is going. He said Ohio is at the forefront of that change.
“But this has to keep going because it can fall short if we don’t keep at it,” Kasich said, noting that he has just six months remaining in his term as governor.
He said the next governor and the state legislature will need to build on the momentum that is already building in the state. He said leaders cannot let fear of the future or of failure deter them from moving forward.
Officials said the SMARTCenter will be “the largest, most comprehensive contained testing site for advanced vehicle technologies.” The facility will feature:
-The longest (1.2 miles) and widest (six lanes) connected, signalized intersection in the industry;
-An urban network consisting of movable intersections, roundabouts and oblique intersection scenarios;
-A 10,000-square foot control building with garage and office space;
-Full-site access to U.S. 33 wireless information technologies and high-speed wireless communication;
-An underground power distribution and fiber network to support current and future test technologies.
The State of Ohio, JobsOhio and The Ohio State University are providing funding for the $45 million project.
While project construction is expected to take 18 months, a portion of the center could be operational by the fall, officials said.
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