Congress will continue to weigh provisions of a $1 trillion infrastructure package in late September while the private sector begins assessing how it might cash in on public projects for roads, bridges and broadband as well as smart transportation and electric vehicles.
One provision sets aside $500 million in grants for smart community projects to improve transportation efficiency and safety. A separate resolution in Congress also calls for setting transportation priorities on achieving zero traffic deaths in the U.S. compared to more than 42,000 in 2020 alone.
Fierce Electronics asked Hexagon AB, a global smart transportation supplier based in Sweden, about the significance of the congressional smart city grants and related proposals. Bruce Chaplin, vice president of transportation solutions for Hexagon, responded via email.
FE: Is $500 million enough for smart cities, really?
Chaplin: Our infrastructure plays a critical role in supporting quality of life and our economy; and ever since the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) began issuing the Report Card for Americas Infrastructure in 1998, we've consistently been graded in the Ds. The $1 trillion infrastructure bill invests broadly across highways and bridges, public transit, rail, safety, electrification of cars and buses and digital infrastructure.
The $500 million in Smart City funding provides more targeted funding for cities to experiment with smart transportation technology, connected and autonomous vehicles and other technologies intended to improve urban life. So, while $500 million seems like a small amount relative to the total bill, it needs to be seen in a broader context. It is just one element, and significant spending from other parts of the bill will all contribute to creating safe, efficient and connected communities. This will be a win for everyone.
FE: Who is likely to take advantage of that smart city funding? Cities? Companies like Hexagon?
Chaplin: The funding in this specific provision, as it currently stands, would be allocated directly to the public. Section 25005 provides that no more than 40 percent of the funding may go to large communities, no more than 30 percent to mid-sized communities and no more than 30 percent to rural communities or regional partnerships. Hexagon’s comprehensive portfolio of smart transportation technology is uniquely positioned to assist these localities with their project implementation.
FE: Is $7 billion for electric vehicle charging nearly enough to boost EVs?
Chaplin: In addition to providing technologies that support sustainability, Hexagon also invests in decarbonization projects, so it’s good to see this type of commitment. The $7 billion in EV infrastructure will go a long way toward boosting adoption of electric vehicles, providing infrastructure for charging along highway corridors and within communities. But, there are also other elements of the bill that will accelerate use of EVs; for example, the additional $5 billion to deliver electric school buses nationwide. These investments will collectively help to grow the EV industry, but of course, they are just a start. Time will tell how much progress can be made on EVs, but billions in investment will be progress nonetheless.
FE: What do you think of the suggested linkage by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the $1T in infrastructure with $3.5T for various social services and other needs? Will the linkage hurt chances for infrastructure?
Chaplin: I will leave that to Congress to sort out, but it’s worth nothing that infrastructure investments can provide significant and valuable return on investment for the public in both direct and indirect ways. We work with EPB, the public utility company for Chattanooga, Tennessee. A University of Tennessee at Chattanooga study revealed that EPB’s fiber network, which was supported by a federal smart grid grant, helped generate more than 9,500 jobs and nearly $2.7 billion in economic benefits over 10 years. It also saved businesses $260 million through improved power reliability. And while it was built for smart grid, a side benefit is that the network enables EPB to deliver the fastest citywide internet service in the US.