The Future of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS): Applying Lessons Learned From 30 Years of Innovation
|ITS JPO has celebrated three decades of innovative research and development initiatives that have helped increase the safety of travelers both inside and outside the vehicle, advance roadside infrastructure, and expand mobility options for Americans across the Nation.|
For three decades, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office (JPO) has spurred the development and use of ITS to move people and goods more safely and efficiently.
ITS JPO was established to coordinate intermodal policy in the implementation of the ITS program, originally termed the Intelligent Vehicle Highway System (IVHS) program. From its inception, the ITS JPO has pursued extraordinary challenges—starting with the 1994 signing of the National Automated Highway System Consortium (NAHSC) agreement. This agreement led to the embarkment on major research to develop what was expected to be the next significant evolutionary stage of the Nation’s vehicle-highway transportation system. This research culminated with a successful demonstration of the congressionally mandated Automated Highway System (AHS). This demonstration was followed by the opportunity for elements of the Nation’s transportation system to digitally connect through the dedicated radio spectrum, the Safety Band, but it required additional and substantial amounts of research.
As the prospect of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication became more imminent, ITS JPO supported the advancement of connected vehicle (CV) technology via a real-world pilot deployment program. Now, CVs are poised to positively transform streets, communities, and the manner in which people live and travel into a connected ecosystem. But before these technologies can be broadly deployed, there are several technical, institutional, and financial challenges that can only be understood and overcome by putting emerging technologies to work in real-world situations.
|A rendering of automated vehicles operating on a highway and commercial vehicle ITS infrastructure deployment.|
“As we look back at what the ITS JPO has accomplished in our 30-year history, we are also focused on how we can leverage our successes and lessons learned as we advance toward the future of transportation,” says ITS JPO Director Kenneth M. Leonard. “Transportation’s future revolves not only around connected and automated vehicles, which can efficiently increase safety and mobility for travelers, but also on emerging information communications technologies, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and other ITS advances that will increase access to transportation for all Americans and make the transportation system more flexible, resilient, and affordable.”
The Rise of ITS JPO
The early years of ITS JPO, dating back to the 1990s, were inspired by advances in computing and sensing technologies that had begun to spark keen interests based on their potential to transform surface transportation and offer new possibilities for a safer and more efficient transportation system.
To solidify the role and importance of ITS in maintaining, improving, and growing the U.S. transportation system, the Federal Government reauthorized the Federal-Aid Highway Program in 1991. This crucial step established the foundation for the Federal-aid ITS program. (Although it wasn’t until 1994 that the USDOT officially sanctioned the term “ITS” as a replacement for IVHS—recognizing the multimodal nature of the activity and de-emphasizing the focus on technologies for vehicle guidance—and the IVHS program was renamed ITS JPO, clarifying the program’s multimodal intent.)
In 1991, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), was signed into law, further acknowledging the importance of the development and application of advanced technologies for ITS. The Nation was then on the cusp of a transportation revolution.
One of the major efforts to result from ISTEA was a congressional mandate for the development of a prototype AHS. The USDOT formed the NAHSC—comprised of the following nine public and private organizations: General Motors, Bechtel Corporation, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Carnegie Mellon University, Delco Electronics, Hughes, Lockheed Martin, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and the University of California-Berkeley—to demonstrate that an automated highway could provide safer and more convenient travel. The NAHSC used communications, sensors, and obstacle-detection technologies on limited access roadways to automatically control vehicle throttle, steering, and braking. This pioneering work was showcased during a live demonstration in August 1997, referred to as Demo ’97, where more than 20 fully automated vehicles operated on the I-15 in San Diego, CA, as elected officials, transportation stakeholders, the media, and the general public watched.
Another pivotal moment in ITS JPO’s history includes the passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1997. Through TEA-21, ITS JPO received funding for research, training, and standards development; the development of metropolitan and rural systems; and commercial vehicle ITS infrastructure deployment. TEA-21 helped ITS JPO transition from a moderate research program to a program steadfast in its pursuits to accelerate technology research into technology deployment.
|A rendering of connected vehicle technology implemented on major roads and highways.|
Advancing Mobility and a Connected Transportation System
In 1999, the Federal Communications Commission allocated 75 MHz of radio spectrum for ITS use. The 2000s brought a rapid expansion in the use of communications technologies—the number of Americans with a smartphone skyrocketed, the number and speed of Wi-Fi networks grew, and cloud technology became more prevalent. These developments, coupled with other expanded uses and opportunities created by communications technologies, led ITS JPO and the transportation industry to become acutely interested in the tremendous potential of V2V and V2I technologies to address highway safety problems and other challenges. These developments also revealed possibilities for new transportation applications that could leverage communications technologies and connectivity to offer more real-time information for travelers. For example, mobile and in-vehicle user devices for imminent crash alerts, upcoming queue warnings, and signal violations.
ITS JPO recognized the potential to propel ITS forward by connecting vehicles, roads, and travelers, and in 2012, launched the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot. At the time, this safety pilot was the largest real-world test of CV technologies. More than 2,700 participating vehicles in Ann Arbor, MI, used wireless safety technology to help everyday drivers avoid crashes as they traveled along their daily routes.
|ITS JPO recognized early on the potential to propel ITS forward by connecting vehicles, roads, and travelers’ personal devices.|
The success of the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot paved the way for the more robust and nationwide Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment program in 2015. This program awarded cooperative agreements collectively worth more than $45 million to three pilot sites in New York City, Tampa, FL (at the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority), and along I-80 in Wyoming, to implement a suite of CV applications and technologies tailored to meet each region’s unique transportation needs. Each site designed, built, tested, and is now operating deployments of integrated, interoperable wireless in-vehicle, mobile device, and roadside technologies.
|The USDOT awarded three cooperative agreements for the regional connected vehicle pilots in New York City; Wyoming; and Tampa, FL.|
“By uncovering and addressing barriers to deployment, documenting lessons learned, and providing a template for other early deployments, the pilots will ultimately help establish the foundation for growing a nationwide connected vehicle system,” says Kate Hartman, ITS JPO chief of research, evaluation, and management.
|Connected vehicle technology is being deployed or planned to be deployed in over 170 sites across the United States.|
The Way Forward: Putting People First
In June 2021, the ITS JPO published the report, Putting People First: Smart Cities and Communities. Smart cities and communities (SC&Cs) use advanced information and communications technologies to find better ways to address age-old problems like potholes and pollution, traffic and parking, public health and safety, and equity and public engagement. Most importantly, successful SC&Cs put people first. For communities that are embracing SC&C solutions as a means to engage people to accomplish collective goals, that future is fast arriving.
The Nation has ambitious goals for climate, equity, and economic growth that hinge on the U.S. transportation network, and it has been local communities leading the charge to address these goals. By embracing bold policies and innovative solutions that leverage rapidly advancing technologies, communities are not only solving local problems like traffic and parking, but also creating a model for more inclusive, connected, and sustainable communities of the future. USDOT stands ready to support local governments as they learn from early pilots and begin moving toward integrated, sustainable systems—starting with listening, learning, and sharing what works, what doesn’t, and what’s next.
|USDOT stands ready to support governments as they move toward integrated, sustainable transportation systems.|
ITS JPO continues to lead with pilots focused on putting people first. For example, the Complete Trip – ITS4US Deployment Program kicked off in early 2021, and awarded over $38 million to five projects to advance transportation equity by solving mobility challenges for underserved communities that often face greater challenges in accessing essential services. The program aims to provide more efficient, affordable, and accessible transportation options for individuals with disabilities, older adults, low-income individuals, rural residents, veterans, and travelers with limited English proficiency.
ITS JPO is also continuing to explore advanced communications technologies to support transportation connectivity, thereby enabling cooperative ITS and connected and automated transportation. This includes exploratory research into the viability of next-generation communications technologies, such as cellular vehicle-to-everything and 5G communications. In addition, the ITS JPO is exploring the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support and augment the actions of traffic management center operators, transit and freight operators, and travelers to ensure safer, more efficient, and equitable travel. “AI holds significant promise to improve the safety, mobility, efficiency, equity, accessibility, and environmental impacts of our transportation network,” says ITS JPO’s Chief of Policy, Architecture, and Knowledge Transfer Dr. Jonathan Walker, P.E.
Paving the Path Forward
As ITS JPO looks toward the future, it remains committed to ensuring the safety of roads, highways, and communities for all travelers. According to Leonard, “Doing so requires we leverage our most innovative ideas and technologies as well as advanced management approaches to developing, deploying, and integrating complex systems of systems. This is not about continuing the status quo. Our Nation’s transportation system must evolve and advance to continue to serve as a pipeline to our communities, our livelihood, and our productivity. It must become smarter, more connected, more integrated, and more accessible to fit the diverging needs of all people, communities, and society as a whole.”
Egan Smith, P.E., PTP, PTOE, works as managing director of ITS JPO and is responsible for the coordination, oversight, and evaluation for all ongoing ITS JPO program activities. Egan has a B.S. in civil engineering, an M.E. in traffic engineering and operations research, and an M.S. in technology management.
For more information, see https://www.its.dot.gov/history/index.html. To learn more about the ITS JPO, visit www.its.dot.gov, https://www.its.dot.gov/stratplan2020/index.htm, or contact Egan Smith at (202) 366-9224 or Egan.Smith@dot.gov.