ITS report a wake-up call

This report should be a serious wake-up call to our nation’s transportation leaders and policymakers as to why the United States is not staying competitive in the international market.   Other industrialized nations have learned that a major key to transportation system performance and economic growth is by deploying intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to allow for the safe and efficient movement of goods and people.

According to the report the U.S. federal government must assume a far greater leadership role in the deployment of ITS technologies, which it calls “the 21st Century digital equivalent of the Interstate Highway System.”  The report also calls for an annual investment of between $2.5 to $3 billion in ITS deployment and large-scale demonstration projects, with federal transportation funding being tied to states’ actual improvements in transportation system performance.

To correct this, Congress and the Administration need to make the same commitment to ITS as the leaders of these other nations in the transportation reauthorization bill.  In 2005, the U.S. House showed leadership by including ITS funding in the SAFETEA-LU legislation.  Unfortunately, this funding was later stripped out in the conference committee.  The result was our foreign competitors continued to move forward with ITS deployments while the U.S. fell further behind.

Congress and the Administration have the opportunity to help the U.S. reclaim its innovation leadership so that China, India and other nations do not also pass us by.

Intelligent Transportation Systems offer innovative and cost-effective ways to address our safety, congestion and environmental problems.  We cannot simply continue to build our way out of these problems.  We have to make better use of our existing infrastructure while building smarter transportation systems and solutions for the future.

What technology has done for the communications, consumer electronics and aviation industries, it can do for surface transportation.  And the good news is there are very achievable policy steps that can be taken to help the U.S. reclaim its leadership role in the use of technology to address our transportation, economic and environmental challenges.

Consider:

-          Transportation agencies that have invested in ITS have found that every $1 spent on technologies like synchronized and adaptive traffic signals returns nearly $40 or more to the public in time and fuel savings.

-          A recent GAO study found that a $1.2 billion investment to deploy and operate real-time transportation information programs in all 50 states and the nation’s largest 50 metropolitan areas would generate more than $30 billion in environmental, mobility and safety benefits.

-          The most important function ITS technology can have is to save lives.  Before today is over more than 100 Americans will die on U.S. roads.  ITS technologies like lane departure warnings, blind spot detection and collision avoidance systems can reduce these deaths by 31 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  That’s nearly 12,000 lives that would be saved every year in the U.S.

We put a man on the moon over 40 years ago.  It’s time we make a stronger commitment to deploying these innovative technology solutions on our nation’s roads, transit systems and across our multimodal transportation network.