Tech Giants, the Internet, and Autonomous Cars Will Fix Roads
Roads in America are falling apart
The American Society of Civil Engineers has rated our roads a D+ or worse for 30 years now, with nearly half our roads needing major investment, a number projected to increase to 75% within 15 years. Road building costs have doubled in the last 15 years to an average of $2 million per lane per mile and are expected to double again in the next 15 years.
The historical funding sources for America’s roadways is political, rigid, insufficient, and unsustainable, and commercial interests are demanding new technologies in the right-of-way. Our roads are paid for almost exclusively by tax revenues, which have been falling for decades while the asset volume has continued to increase. Total available funding per unit of assets has collapsed over the last 30 years. It is not feasible to increase taxes enough for the now-$6 trillion need and nobody in the public or private sector has identified a sufficient alternative source of funding.
Roads are the public’s largest asset and occupy millions of square feet of prime non-producing real-estate in each city, and billions of square feet of prime non-producing real estate in each state. For example, Kansas City, MO owns 6,000 lane-miles of roadway, representing 380 million square feet of non-revenue-generating real-estate, and the State of Missouri owns 34,000 lane-miles of roadway, representing 2.15 billion square feet. With domestic average commercial real-estate lease rates over $23 per square foot, this represents $12 trillion of annual potential untapped economic capacity.
At the same time, municipalities face demands for implementation of advanced technologies into the public right-of-way, including sensors and connectivity in support of Smart Cities, Internet of Things, 5G cellular, and connected, electric, and autonomous vehicles.
Imagine roads that are built in factories in sections and then assembled on-site like Lego blocks
Roads are necessary for our survival and deserve a modern solution
Our entire economy depends on public infrastructure, but municipal authorities cannot afford to maintain roadways, much less upgrade them with the new technologies that commercial and private interests are demanding.
We can’t afford to fix our roads “the way we’ve always done it”. We need new solutions that anticipate the future needs of our society. We need to take advantage of all our technological and economic development over the last century to deliver a solution that works not only for ourselves, but for generations to come.
Technology provides a sustainable solution
As our roads and interstates crumble, struggling cash-poor cities are expected to invest in Smart Cities sensor networks, municipal broadband, and public-safety Wi-Fi.
Telecom companies are expected to bring fiber to the home, build rural broadband networks, and finance the construction of advanced high-speed 5G networks. Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft have become ubiquitous, but their social impact is contentious, and ride-share has greatly increased the number of vehicle trips, congestion, and the resulting strain on our urban centers. San Francisco roads shut down for hours each day due to outrageous gridlock. LA has the worst congestion in the world, and some NYC streets are nearly impassable.
Online delivery companies like Amazon have displaced brick-and-mortar retail, increasing the complication of logistics and delivery in our cities. Automakers are expected to deliver connected vehicles, electric vehicles, and autonomous cars, but are impaired by deteriorating roadways.
What if these problems are actually interlocking solutions?
Integrated Roadways has been working to fit these pieces together to deliver a long-term solution to all of these issues in one fell swoop.
Imagine roads that are built in factories in sections and then assembled on-site like Lego blocks. Integrated Roadways founder and CEO Tim Sylvester says, “This is a better, faster, cheaper construction method that lasts twice as long, builds in half the time, and lowers operations and maintenance expenses by more than half over the life of the roadway.”
The United States Department of Transportation agrees, having funded modular road construction for 16 years through the “Highways for Life” program, studied by the Transportation Research Board’s “Strategic Highway Research Program 2” and have strongly recommended such methods. Pre-fabricated road building is used world-wide, has been demonstrated in more than half our fifty states, and has been extensively used for California interstate improvements on more than 200 projects.
“We can identify vehicle counts, positions, weights, speeds, and trajectories in real time, greatly improving our urban and interstate traffic management”
A next-generation mobility network
Integrated Roadways isn’t content just with pre-fabricated road panels. They have a patented process to stuff sensors, phone and Internet connectivity and other hardware into the roadway. “Inside each pavement slab, we use fiber optic sensing cables to make the road ‘touch sensitive’ like a massive trackpad, except instead of looking for fingers we’re looking for tires” says Sylvester. He adds, “Fiber optic sensing technology is used in oil and gas pipeline monitoring, bridge and building foundation monitoring, perimeter security for military bases, and on aircraft and space ships to monitor fuselage integrity. It’s a sensitive, reliable, proven technology.”
Sylvester believes this means we can build roads faster that last longer and cost less over their lives, while being easier to repair and requiring less maintenance and service. “We can identify vehicle counts, positions, weights, speeds, and trajectories in real time, greatly improving our urban and interstate traffic management,” he said. “Because we can ‘see’ each vehicle, we can ‘see’ collisions or when cars leave the road, enabling immediate alerts to emergency services faster than anyone could call 911 — and even if nobody is around to witness it!”
Integrated Roadways’ rendering for a modular, sensor-embedded, connected smart roadway.
Out of the factory and onto the road
Imagine veering off the highway in a remote area, and nobody knows what happened to you. It's a sad reality along a stretch of U.S. Route 285 in Colorado just north of Fairplay. But Integrated Roadways plans to change that through a key partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation’s RoadX program to use next-generation innovations to solve infrastructure challenges.
The pilot project on Route 285 is slated to wrap up installation in the fall and will last five years. Eighty-five miles from Denver, the 1/2-mile project is along the state's most dangerous curve and one of the top five most dangerous in the U.S., with ten times more accidents and fatalities than average.
But beyond improving safety, Colorado wants to test the Smart Pavement system's ability to generate a new revenue stream by monetizing its connectivity and data generated. The Smart Pavement system can track vehicle counts, the make and model of vehicles on the road by tracking road depressions, vehicle weights, road quality, vehicle speeds and driver behaviors. Integrated Roadways' real-time data collection can track the relative position of vehicles in real time, supporting autonomous vehicles.
Vehicle counts and types of vehicles along a road can provide valuable data to a variety of businesses, including retailers, commercial developers and commercial property owners, he said. Retailers, for example, can begin tailoring marketing campaigns to area travelers, and the data also can help commercial property owners determine which businesses to put in a shopping center. "You can tell so much about demographics just by knowing what kind of car somebody's in," said Sylvester, who also serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer.
Roads that pay for themselves
Sylvester envisions the road as “a robust ‘Edge-Dense Digital Physical Hybrid Neutral Host Network”, which means the road becomes a high-speed wired and wireless network that transports data as well as cars.
“This enables us to give away new roads and fiber networks without new sources of public funding, providing Smart City upgrades everywhere we improve roads, delivering municipal fiber networks and public-safety Wi-Fi, rural broadband, Internet-of-Things connections for fixed sensors and devices, and super high-speed 5G for cell carriers, at a significantly lower cost together than any of them by themselves, like buying an app instead of a device,” said Sylvester.
Integrated Roadways envisions roads paid for by the data they collect.
Instead of cities and states paying for the improvements, Smart Pavement improvements can be financed using a US Department of Treasury recommended model called a Public Private Partnership. “This is the same model both the Obama and Trump Administration prefer for fixing our infrastructure, but with our tweak it doesn’t require any tolls, period, of any kind, or any charges just to drive,” according to Sylvester. “We generate revenue to repay the financing from fees charged only for the new services. You’ll never have to pay to just drive, in the same way you don’t have to pay to use Facebook, browse Amazon, or walk into a store, and your car doesn’t have to be new or compatible to use these roads.”
“We monetize non-individually-identifiable metadata through a broad partnership network — real estate developers, insurance providers, brick-and-mortar and online retailers, trucking and logistics providers, transportation companies, navigation companies — anyone who can improve their services, operations, or investments by knowing more about the roads their businesses depend on,” says Sylvester. “This is basically like bringing Google’s AdWords programs to our road networks.”
Say hello to the real information super highway
The USDOT reports America has 8 million miles of paved roads with a replacement value of $16 trillion dollars, representing 506 billion square feet of non-productive real-estate. “If roads matched the average commercial real estate rate of $23 per square foot in lease revenue,” he said. “American roads could theoretically produce $11.6 trillion dollars annually, increasing the GDP by up to 40%!”
“When we founded Integrated Roadways,” he continued, “nobody knew what an autonomous car was. Nobody had heard of Smart Cities, and nobody was thinking about the economics of 5G. Nobody in tech wanted to mess with the difficult task of fixing public roads, it was only later that the titans of tech wanted to listen. But as a nation, we’ve turned many corners in the last few years, and people have started to call our work ‘inevitable’. People now know we need better roads and data for driverless cars, ubiquitous fiber and 5G, and to upgrade our cities for the next generation.”
“If Americans are going to spend trillions on upgrading public infrastructure — the single largest asset that the American public holds — don’t we owe it to ourselves, and our children, and their children, to think ahead? Don’t we have an obligation to the future to consider its needs? We’re at a turning point in history, and instead of pouring outrageous sums of public money into repeating past mistakes, we have a responsibility to make the best of all the things we’ve learned in the last few generations,” said Sylvester. “That’s why we’re here, and this is why Integrated Roadways exists — to make roads pay for themselves so that Americans will have the best infrastructure in the world for this generation and many to come.”