Smart transportation tech grants part of massive Senate package

Smart transportation grants to communities of all sizes are part of the Senate-approved $1 trillion infrastructure plan. V2X tech and various sensors are allowed, but license plate readers are out. (Getty Images)

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday sets aside $500 million for smart community technologies to improve transportation efficiency and safety.

Compared to the total price tag of the $1 trillion, smart tech grants valued at $500 million over five years may seem like a trifle, but even the biggest smart transportation companies appear to be  encouraged by the approach.

In one example, smart transportation supplier Hexagon AB, based in Sweden, is watching the progress of the bill closely, a company representative said Wednesday. Hexagon has 21,000 employees in 50 countries and trades on the Nasdaq, making it one of largest companies of its kind..

Hexagon combines AI and Lidar to help the U.K. national railway automate track inspections and was selected by the South Carolina Department of Transportation in late 2020 to implement a transportation safety management system, including crash data analysis across 79,000 miles of the state’s roadways.

The analysis is designed to help transportation planners identify high risk locations. The system will be developed and implemented in phases and was originally expected to take 26 months.

Smart community tech funds in the infrastructure bill would be distributed by the Secretary of Transportation over five years in the form of grants to be split between communities that are large, medium or primarily rural or regional in nature, according to section 25005 of the 2,700-page bill.

Funds could be used for a wide array of technologies such as “intelligent, sensor-based infrastructure” to collect and report real-time data to inform everyday transportation-related operations and performance.”  Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications are included as well.

Grants could also go for innovative aviation technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems to monitor traffic and infrastructure.  Smart grid technologies and smart traffic signals are also identified as eligible.

The funds could be used for planning and systems development, acquisition of property, construction costs and equipment costs.

Significantly, the Senate bill prohibits using the grants for traffic or parking enforcement or to purchase or lease a license plate reader.  Police departments in some communities have come under fire for privacy reasons for using license plate readers that are usually connected to high resolution cameras and character recognition software as well as databases of previous offenders.

Goals of the grants program include reducing traffic-related fatalities and injuries and reducing traffic congestion or improving travel-times.  Another objective: “Reducing barriers or improving access to jobs, education or various essential services.”

The infrastructure bill passed the Senate by 69-30 and now goes to the House, with strong support from President Biden. He noted that the 69-vote majority was larger than the majority that supported the interstate highway act in the 1950s.

RELATED: Senate passes $1T infrastructure bill with 69 votes; Biden applauds

The overall infrastructure bill includes $110 billion for highways, bridges and roads, with nearly $40 billion for bridges. Another $39 billion would go for public transit with $66 billion for Amtrak.  The bill has $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations (half of what Biden wanted) and $5 billion to buy electric school buses and hybrids.

There is also $65 billion for modernizing the electric grid, $25 billion for airports, $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure.

The five-year spending package includes $550 billion in new spending and would be paid for using $210 billion in unspent pandemic relief aid and $53 billion in unemployment insurance aid that some states halted.