Colorado RoadX: Revolutionizing the Future of Transport

Nov. 9, 2016
CDOT will tap into innovators and advisers from around the state, across the nation, and worldwide, as well as leaders from public and private industry, to guide the integration of technology in Colorado’s transportation system.

Congestion. Construction. Distracted drivers and worse. These are some of the challenges faced by drivers every day, but solutions are being developed by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) with the help of companies like Atkins, a global engineering, design and program management firm that applies innovation and technology to communities’ toughest challenges. CDOT is leading a technological transformation initiative called RoadX, a program aimed to revolutionize transportation as we know it. Its goal is unabashedly ambitious: To apply innovation and technology to create roadways that are free of delays, injuries and crashes.

One of the more exciting aspects of RoadX is its collaborative nature. The initiative is a cooperative enterprise focused on building partnerships and entrepreneurial relationships to deliver innovative solutions. CDOT will tap into innovators and advisers from around the state, across the nation, and worldwide, as well as leaders from public and private industry, to guide the integration of technology in Colorado’s transportation system.

Like many states across our country, Colorado has seen unprecedented growth in the past decade. More businesses moving to the state means increased development along the busy urban highway corridors, like Interstate 25 and Interstate 70, to accommodate population growth. While great for the economy, the roads have to handle the increased commercial and commuter traffic associated with this growth. Even though other modes of transportation, like light rail and buses, are available, they often don’t get commuters close enough to their destination, leaving few options but driving. Other areas CDOT has targeted through the RoadX program include reducing the disproportionate number of serious injuries and deaths along the state’s many rural roads, improving bicycle and pedestrian safety and moving freight more efficiently.

“The time is right to invest in our RoadX vision for a number of reasons. Tools and technology have advanced significantly to the point where intelligent tolling, connected and automated vehicles, and intelligent roadways are not far off. These advances will improve mobility, ease congestion and make it possible to achieve our ’zero deaths’ goal,” Peter Kozinski, CDOT’s RoadX program director, said.

As one of three companies chosen by CDOT to serve as RoadX Champions, Atkins will work as an innovator and facilitator to help implement the program. Some of the significant benefits Coloradans will see in coming years include:

• Mobility. RoadX will incorporate a number of technologies specifically designed to enhance mobility. Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) already support variable message signs, traffic signals and lane controls, real-time weather information and video monitoring of traffic and highway security. Improved analytics and integration will allow the data gathered using these ITS devices to augment CDOT’s decision making and enhance roadway operations. By using signs and mobile apps on phones, this information can also inform drivers about traffic conditions to help them navigate around accidents and peak-period snarls. Atkins is currently assisting other agencies with this type of work. Other mobility initiatives will incentivize deployment of connected vehicle technologies to enhance vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadway infrastructure communications to improve safety and provide real-time traffic information to the public.

• Efficiency. RoadX has a target of reducing the cost of transporting goods. Several technologies such as connected vehicles and “platooning” will reduce fuel consumption significantly, due to less congestion and less starting and stopping in traffic. Platooning also increases fuel efficiency by enabling multiple trucks to travel very close together, through wireless communication, alerting trucks when one is braking. This is known as slipstreaming, a technique seen in NASCAR and cycling races. Slipstreaming dramatically reduces drag, thereby improving efficiency and reducing fuel consumption.

• Safety. Rural traffic safety is a major concern in Colorado, with vehicles crossing into oncoming traffic or running off the road being significant causes of crashes that result injuries or fatalities. In the future, technology designed to enhance vehicle safety will be built into cars and the road infrastructure itself. Virtual guardrails can correct a vehicle and steer it back into its lane. Other vehicle technology is rapidly developing to prevent accidents as well. The BMW Series 7 Sedan, for instance, already can include a system that lets the car drive itself as long as the driver has one hand on the wheel. It includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and alerts the driver when it’s unsafe to pull out or pass. Cameras keep the car in its lane and at a safe distance from other cars. Other technology may detect when a driver is drowsy or impaired. Expect to see this type of smart car technology built into future cars, as well as retrofits that can enable this technology in existing vehicles.

• Technology. Connected vehicles will communicate directly with other cars and infrastructure over wireless networks with information about what the vehicle is doing, obstacles on the road, weather conditions, slippery surfaces, curve speed warnings, white-out and low visibility alerts, wrong-way drivers, runaway trucks, avalanches, rock falls and crashes. Atkins is working with several partners and clients to deploy connected vehicle systems and develop the applications to perform these functions for several of our clients throughout the U.S. Vehicles and infrastructure will contribute to and update information constantly in a fashion that creates a ‘hive mind’ of the sort found on social media networks. Big Data systems hosted by CDOT and its partners will aggregate and analyse data to enhance safety and efficiency through better operation and management of the transportation system.

Several automakers and tech companies are testing autonomous cars and cars with automated features, which are expected to be part of the landscape in the near future. They will contribute not only to safety, but also to reduced congestion and energy efficiency. Atkins is part of a consortium in the UK that is trialing autonomous vehicles to test the technology and gauge public reaction, as well as investigate legal and insurance implications.

RoadX is a fast-paced venture that will support CDOT in building the roadways of tomorrow – today. Colorado is on the fast track to offer one of the most technologically advanced transportation systems in the nation.

Jim Hanson is Atkins’ North America lead for Intelligent Mobility (IM) and CDOT RoadX Champion. A big picture thinker, collaborator and meticulous implementer, Hanson also serves as division manager for Atkins' intelligent transportation systems and traffic engineering practice for the western United States.