The future of transportation is all about technology

Fifty government officials and business executives came out on a cold early morning to listen to experts in transportation and transportation funding. In the front row, financial planner Judy Carlson, former state Rep. Polly Lawrence, Lone Tree city council member Wynne Shaw, and Centennial city council member Kathy Turley, who was proudly celebrating her 75th birthday.


The planning life cycle of a major transportation project is 20 years. By comparison, the smartphone, which has changed communication worldwide, has been around for 17 years. We know that technology will be a major factor in every manner of transportation innovation, but how can we know what technology to use for transportation projects we are just imagining today?

That was the message from Peter Kozinski, a 17-year veteran of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), now a principal with Connected/Automated Vehicle and Advanced Mobility Advisory Services. He spoke to a full room of government officials and business executives at an early-morning South Metro Denver Chamber (SMDC) Business Leaders for Responsible Government (BLRG) committee program on Transportation and Transportation Funding at the Lone Tree Hub Feb. 20. The event was hosted by Bob Golden, SMDC president and CEO. BLRG chair Geoff Blue moderated the discussion.

RTD launched its autonomous shuttle called 61AV in the past month. Photo courtesy of RTD.
Peter Kosinski spent 17 years at CDOT before becoming a consultant.

Future technology
Kosinski posed the question: “Cars are most households’ second largest investment. They sit idle 80 percent of the time. Why? Because they provide freedom, but is it worth it?” He continued, “Roads require signs, stripes and traffic signals, all for the benefit of human drivers. A digital signal could be sent to an autonomous vehicle that would make all those things unnecessary. Another benefit — instead of driving that same human could be doing business, reading, or conducting an interview on the way to work.”

Kosinski predicts that soon vehicles used in large metropolitan areas will be electric and autonomous. He sees inductive charging technology being built under roads to address concerns about “range anxiety” (worrying about losing power before finding a charging station). He believes this application and other uses of cutting-edge technology will be funded through public-private partnerships, not government alone.

Kathy Turley, a Centennial city council member, asked Kosinski about the future role of light rail. Kosinski said, with gentle sarcasm, “Transit is great. It takes you from where you aren’t to where you don’t want to go.” RTD Board Chairman Doug Tisdale stood up to share that RTD has partnered with Uber to develop an app that allows an individual to plan and pay for a light rail trip and an Uber ride to and/or from the light rail station with one action on a smartphone. Tisdale also shared that RTD has already begun using “61AV,” an autonomous shuttle between the Peña Boulevard light-rail station near Denver International Airport, the Panasonic campus and a park-n-ride facility. His message was, don’t count out light rail or RTD just yet.

Jim Paral is traffic engineer for the City of Centennial through a contract with Jacobs (Engineering).

Technology today
The City of Centennial contracts out its public works services through Jacobs, formerly Jacobs Engineering Group. Jacobs’ Jim Paral serves as Centennial’s traffic engineer. His goal is to expand the use of technology to enhance safety and increase efficiency.

A high-speed fiber-optic network system is being installed to connect all 83 Centennial traffic signals, 64 of which already have cameras, to allow Centennial to use a traffic operations center (TOC) to monitor and make adjustments to traffic signals as determined by the number of cars at an intersection, weather and any other existing conditions affecting traffic flow. Greenwood Village has had a TOC since 2005 and full operational real-time control of all its traffic signals since 2011. GV has used its TOC to clear all traffic out of the Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre area after concerts in 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the crowd.

Centennial, Greenwood Village and Lone Tree are partnering on a joint project in the Yosemite corridor that will use an algorithm to cause traffic signals to respond automatically to changing conditions. It is hoped that this will lead to future connected vehicle technology to improve safety and efficiency for driven and autonomous vehicles in a continuous flow without regard to city boundaries.

State Sen. Jeff Bridges talked about the challenges of funding transportation after the defeat of Amendments 109 and 110 in November.

Paying for mobility
Democrat Jeff Bridges was recently appointed state senator representing SD26 after Sen. Daniel Kagan resigned. Bridges said, “Transportation and education are chronically underfunded. Colorado is in the bottom 10 of states in per-pupil spending for K-12. We spend $650 million less on K-12 education than what voters directed us to spend. That is what is referred to as the ‘negative factor.’” He went on, “Coloradans want things but don’t want to pay for them,” citing the failure of three ballot initiatives on transportation and education in November. Adding, “While there are other options for transportation, there are none for education. It must come from the regular state budget.”

Though no bills have been presented to address transportation, Bridges said there were two ideas under discussion at the capital. He talked about the possibility of imposing a road use fee on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft because of their high usage of roads and on electric vehicles because they use the roads but pay no gas tax.

Another idea, which Bridges supports, is to “de-Bruce” at the state level to help fund transportation. He explained that it would allow the state to keep money it has already received from taxes on the books that exceed the calculated TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) cap. This year that amount is $300 million, which will otherwise be returned to all the state’s taxpayers in small amounts. Bridges believes that it would be more valuable to taxpayers to have the full undivided $300 million directed toward CDOT’s list of priority road projects to address our most pressing road needs.

He closed by reminding everyone that the No. 1 cause of traffic is that “everyone drives alone”; 90 percent of the cars on the road have one occupant.

They came to listen and learn
Demonstrating the vital importance of this issue, all three Douglas County commissioners, Lora Thomas, Roger Partridge and Abe Laydon, along with Wynne Shaw, Lone Tree city council member, and Kathy Turley, Centennial city council member and SMDC board member, attended and pressed the speakers with pointed questions.

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