Vehicle-to-infrastructure: The neglected necessity
There are two related, but distinct, aspects to automated vehicles (AVs): the technology enabling the vehicle to drive “autonomously” (i.e., independent of any human intervention or any third-party guidance system) and the “connected” technology and systems enabling it to interface and communicate with other vehicles (V2V) and the surrounding infrastructure (V2I). Most attention is given to the autonomous aspect, but V2I capability is going to be a critical component in the early deployment of AVs on public roads.
V2I capabilities enable a vehicle to both receive and transmit real-time information and data through the radio spectrum via traffic signals, roadside equipment units, roadway embedded sensors, and signal emitters. This wireless exchange of information between the vehicle and its surrounding highway infrastructure can significantly enhance the vehicle’s ability to avoid accidents by alerting it to things like:
- Traffic signaling
- Sign broadcasting
- Curve ahead
- Working zone reduce speed warnings
- Weather alerts
- Road departure warnings
- Emergency vehicle prioritization
- Traffic flow coordination
- Pedestrian crossing alerts
In other words, because a V2I system provides the AV with critical information that supplements, confirms, and corrects the AV’s own sensor-based information, the AV is able to navigate public streets in a much safer manner. For this reason, V2I systems will likely be a required element in AV deployment on public roads.
However, because the infrastructure improvements and equipment involved in V2I systems reside on the public right-of-ways, the private sector will not be able to build, own, or control these infrastructure improvements on its own. The public sector will need to be involved. Moreover, given that the federal government has pronounced in the past that this aspect will need to be the responsibility of state and local governments (which own most of the relevant public rights-of-way), this raises questions of financing sources and risk allocation.
Fortunately, there are at least two options available to finance such public infrastructure projects. The first is through municipal financing schemes funded by revenues or fees chargeable to AV operators, owners, or networks. Consider the example of AV ride-sharing companies seeking to operate their network of AVs in a particular municipality, such as a city, county, or region. In such a case, the municipality could agree to finance and install the V2I equipment and systems in its territory in return for charging the AV ride-sharing companies a user fee computed to at least cover the municipality’s financing costs.
The second way is through public-private-partnerships (PPPs). Basically, a PPP approach entails a project in which both the public and private sector is involved in financing, building, implementing, and maintaining the project. For instance, in the AV ride-sharing example, a consortium of private, third parties could enter into a long-term agreement with the municipality to finance, build, and operate a V2I system on the municipality’s public rights-of-way in return for obtaining part of the user fees to be collected from the ride-sharing companies. Indeed, some states, such as Michigan, are considering legislation to expressly authorize PPPs for V2I projects.
There are other issues that may need to be worked out to facilitate deploying V2I systems. Mainly, local governments will want to mitigate any potential liability they may have involving V2I systems. Accordingly, state government immunity statutes will need to be reviewed, and may need to be amended, in order to accommodate such concerns. In addition, state constitutional provisions relating to internal improvements may need to be considered. However, the sooner the public sector starts paying attention to these issues, the quicker AVs will be able to be safely deployed on public roads.
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