Another spring has come and almost gone. I write to you today on the verge of the Memorial Day weekend. Looking back on my Winter 2017 column, our mild winter has delivered a mixed bag of weather for the springtime. We have already seen some hot, dry weather, but we have also experienced periods of cool, wet weather. A couple of recent weekends provide a prime example of the unpredictable weather here in Tennessee. On April 29, I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the early afternoon temperature was near 90 degrees in Gatlinburg. The following weekend, US 441 was closed to through traffic due to snow and ice near Newfound Gap. Sometimes the old saying holds true. If you don't like the weather around here, just wait.
Spring also brought some welcome news on the transportation funding front. The Tennessee General Assembly passed Governor Bill Haslam's IMPROVE Act in April. This action will bring approximately $250 million annually in new state transportation funding. The IMPROVE Act also brings up to $70 million in new transportation funding for counties and $35 million for cities. These increases are made possible by increases in the state's fuel taxes (six cents per gallon for gasoline and ten cents per gallon for diesel) and vehicle registration fees. Hopefully this much-needed infusion of funds will truly improve transportation safety and accessibility for all Tennesseans.
The Center for Transportation Research partnered with Rhythm Engineering to cohost the Advanced Technologies in Transportation Symposium in Knoxville on May 9th. This event offered participants a look forward at new technologies which will bring significant change to the transportation industry. The event featured presentations on connected and autonomous vehicle technology (CAV), automated traffic signal performance measures (ATSPM), and deep learning.
One phrase that grabbed my attention at the symposium was "cyber security." Most of our current safety efforts focus on unintentional driver error or poor judgment, but what happens if an individual or group intentionally interferes with the systems that ensure safety in a world of connected autonomous vehicles which depend on a constant stream of accurate information from onboard sensors and cameras, other vehicles, GPS, and the roadway itself? Other potential effects of new technologies were less ominous but equally interesting. If autonomous vehicles lead to a shift away from personal vehicle ownership and towards ridesharing or use-on-demand models, what happens to parking lots? In this version of the future, vehicles would pass from one user to another with little downtime. In times of reduced demand, unneeded vehicles could be moved away from city centers to satellite service or storage facilities. It will probably take decades for this transition to occur, but it would certainly change the way we approach residential and commercial development (and the roads which serve these areas).
That's all for now. Please let me know if there is anything that TTAP can do to help you meet your community's transportation needs.
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996 | 865-974-1000
The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System