Why a major road builder is building high-tech highways

Interest in tech-focused roadways, and Cintra wants to capitalize.
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· 3 min read

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Increasingly, major road builders are laying the…groundwork…for a technologically advanced, autonomous road system.

Take Cintra, for example. The company, a subsidiary of Spanish infrastructure company Ferrovial, rolled out a project in November featuring the first deployment of the company’s vehicle-to-infrastructure system on a roadway.

The 22.5-mile stretch, located on I-66 in Northern Virginia, features a network of sensors and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology across three regular lanes and two managed lanes in each direction. Ferrovial worked with Microsoft, Intel, Capgemini, 3M, and Telefónica on the tech.

Amid growing interest in more tech-focused roadways, Cintra and Ferrovial are looking to pursue projects like this one, seeing them as “a competitive advantage in terms of future bidding” and a way to demonstrate experience with building connected roadways, Adrian Talbot, head of the center of excellence for mobility at Ferrovial, told Emerging Tech Brew.

“We’re seeing more public statements from DOTs, not just in America but elsewhere as well, for this kind of technology. It is clearly a trend by the increased digitization and connectivity of roads. One of the challenges is whether it’s being driven by electrification, connectivity, and/or automation. My personal view is it is driven by all of those things, and we need to address all of those issues,” Talbot said.

In 2020, Virginia’s DOT released a “Connected and Automated Vehicle Program Plan” in preparation for “connected and automated vehicle technologies and solutions.”

I-66 Express Mobility Partners, a consortium that includes Cintra, invested $3.5 billion in the experimental roadway. The roadway is designed to gather information from connected and autonomous vehicles as well as non-connected vehicles alike, with goals like improving traffic flow, providing more predictable travel times, and increasing safety within the corridor, Talbot said. Cintra also has DOT partners in North Carolina and Texas, Talbot said, as well as in Toronto, Canada, where, in 1999, it rolled out what he called the “first fully digital tolling system.”

Talbot told us that the corridor features 17 lidar sensors, 28 roadside connected-vehicle units, which can communicate with certain connected vehicles, and three variable message signs, all strategically placed around on- and off-ramps and intersections.

“The project itself is all about collecting more data from the highway as fast as possible, processing that data, determining what is happening, and then communicating the events back to the vehicles in order to create those benefits,” Talbot said.

Talbot acknowledged that the market is still nascent, but noted a trend toward safer and more tech-enabled roadways. One example: Cavnue, an offshoot of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is working on a corridor purpose-built for autonomous vehicles in Michigan and announced in April 2022 that it had raised $130 in Series A funding.

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