Many Possible Uses of Federal Grant for Atlantic City Expressway | Editorial

Last week, the Federal Highway Administration awarded an $8.7 million grant to the South Jersey Transportation Authority for a project to provide “vehicle cellular technologies to everything” along the Atlantic City Freeway. . Project.

It could be as simple as providing free Wi-Fi to everyone traveling on the freeway, which would come in handy for some if it were to arrive soon. Almost everyone now has an Internet-connected smartphone, and many also have a networked computer built into their vehicle. For those who still don’t have unlimited data on their phone or with a weak cell signal somewhere along the highway (if any), a reliable Wi-Fi connection can be useful.

Announcing the grant, Stephanie Pollack, Acting Federal Highway Administrator, said, “The South Jersey Transportation Authority project will use advanced technologies to support future connected and automated vehicles.

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It sounds more mystifying. Many major efforts have worked for years to develop autonomous vehicles, and all base their navigation on a mix of advanced GPS location and robust vehicle sensing of its path and immediate surroundings. Driverless cars and trucks need to be able to go just about anywhere, not just confined to specially equipped roads.

So maybe “automated vehicles” means something else.

The grant to SJTA, the largest of this year’s annual grants, was awarded under the Deployment of Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies program. This was created by Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act, get it?) to establish operating models of “advanced transportation technologies to improve the safety, efficiency, system performance, and return on investment of infrastructure”.

Automakers are well on their way to automating vehicles to improve safety, with effective accident avoidance and emergency management systems. As with driverless vehicles, they would never think of depending on anything the government would add to the highway.

The one area where some technology spending could, on rare occasions, provide valuable assistance is in “technology to enhance emergency evacuation and response by federal, state, and local authorities.” This expanded use of these grants was added by last year’s federal infrastructure bill. Safely and efficiently promoting traffic away from shore (and an impending hurricane, for example) could significantly aid emergency response in certain circumstances.

But of course, it’s New Jersey and the domain of its highway authority, which has turned the Atlantic City Expressway, the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike into cash cows. Its 3% toll increase in January came less than two years after it raised tolls by 37% on the freeway, 27% on the parkway and 36% on the turnpike. And the most important automation for New Jersey officials has already been rolled out — these tolls, like the gas tax, will automatically increase every year without politicians putting their fingerprints on them again.

Drivers might therefore consider what other uses are allowed for these funds under the FAST Act.

One is congestion pricing, which New York City has instituted and North Jersey commuters and their representatives are struggling in vain to counter. For example, the highway could encourage fewer drivers during bumper-to-bumper tourist peaks by charging them a little more beyond the heavy tolls.

Another is the paid express lanes. Around Washington, digital billboards tell motorists how much extra they will pay if they take the express lanes to their exit.

The “electronic pricing and payment systems” authorized under the FAST Act could also mean the current holy grail of transport taxes – a system for charging vehicles according to their kilometers traveled. This would improve “efficiency, system performance and infrastructure ROI”.

Dreaming of a smart highway with flying cars floating overhead is fine, but the reality will surely be more modest. And motorists shouldn’t be surprised if the changes are less beneficial and consistent with old New Jersey freeway management practices.