Benefits of innovation go beyond rails and roadways

America’s transportation infrastructure has been the backbone of our economy since the founding of our nation. The two are inextricably linked. Historically, when technology and innovation have led to advancements in infrastructure, economic benefits have often followed.
 
Over the years, innovations in rail and highway infrastructure, navigation, aviation and the industries that support them have had impacts that transcend those particular modes of transportation. When we’ve harnessed technology for the benefit of our infrastructure, our economy has prospered and our quality of life has improved. This principle continues to influence our work on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

 One of the committee’s highest priorities in 2014 is a new surface transportation reauthorization that will help strengthen our national system of highways, bridges and transit. As we continue to develop this legislation, we are exploring the role technology can play in moving freight and people more efficiently, improving safety and maximizing our resources.
 
How we build and navigate the surface transportation system today is quickly evolving, thanks to technology. It affects everything from the way roads are constructed to how traffic is monitored and managed to how car-sharing services and smartphone apps complement the methods by which we get around.

 The Department of Transportation has announced that it plans to require new cars to be equipped with connected vehicle technology, which would allow cars to communicate with one another and the surrounding traffic infrastructure.
 
I have ridden in an autonomous car that virtually drove itself, in various driving conditions and at varying speeds, navigating multi-lane and single-lane highways, construction zones, traffic signals and intersections. In the future, cars like this could be the norm.

Regardless of the kind of new technology, service or technique, we can take steps forward in the development of our surface transportation system by engaging with the technology community.
 
These kinds of advancements not only sound cool, they can also have very real economic and safety benefits.

Driver error is a factor in more than 90 percent of all auto crashes. Reducing user error could have a significant effect on the approximately 34,000 annual traffic fatalities and additional 2.3 million injuries in the United States.

These accidents also cost the United States economy more than $200 billion every year in medical, property and productivity losses.

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Furthermore, technological enhancements could allow fuller utilization of the transportation network’s capacity, and reducing the number of accidents could help alleviate a significant amount of associated congestion.
 
Of course, these examples of technology are not off-the-shelf products. Legitimate questions and concerns about practicality, safety, privacy, liability and cybersecurity must be addressed. We have to answer whether we can utilize these or any other new technologies in a manner that is squarely in the public interest. These are the kinds of challenges that Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower — great American infrastructure builders — would not have shied away from.
 
Development of the surface transportation bill will be an inclusive process. I want to hear input and ideas for utilizing technology from all stakeholders, not just from folks inside the Beltway. We deeply respect America’s history of innovation driving forward our infrastructure and our economy in unison.
 
Working together, we must continue to embrace technology and innovation while we look ahead to the future of our transportation and infrastructure. But we cannot forget that we have to begin planning for that future today.

Shuster has represented Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District since 2001. He sits on the Armed Services Committee and is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.