Fed Grant Greenlights Dallas’ First Smart-Transit Testbed

Dave Moore, Staff Writer

The U.S. federal government has awarded the City of Dallas $4 million in funding to effectively greenlight the city’s first testbed for smart-transit technology.

A 1.5-mile stretch of the S.M. Wright Highway is being rebuilt into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard; a far cry from an elevated, six-lane highway complete with a dead-man’s curve. Like many highways, the S.M. Wright has divided a low-income, minority neighborhood since the 1950s.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) grant, which was announced on Dec. 31, was key to injecting advanced smart-traffic capabilities into that stretch of road, according to Ghassan Khankarli, Interim Director of the City of Dallas’ Department of Transportation.

Key outcomes for both the physical reconstruction and technological improvements will be to improve pedestrian safety while also enhancing traffic flow. Although plans for the physical changes to the road are set, the extent of the technological installations are not.

“Definitely, as we start getting this project off the ground, we’re going to have to start refining what the scope is going to be,” Khankarli said. Possibilities include:

      • connected-vehicle technologies that allow traffic signal controllers to communicate with vehicles, which will better synchronize traffic lights, and inform drivers about impending traffic-signal changes;
      • pedestrian crosswalk buttons that are activated by the presence of pedestrians, rather than by touch;
      • smart-transit bus shelters that inform riders of estimated times of arrival, and contain Wi-Fi and charging ports; and
      • connected-vehicle technologies that will give emergency vehicles and/or buses priority to pass through intersections.

Khankarli noted before those connected-vehicle technology features can work, the City of Dallas will need to amend its 2017 agreement with Ericsson, which didn’t include that option. Unlocking that feature will also allow for the use of connected-vehicle technology in other portions of the city, where crews are installing updated traffic-signal controls with those capabilities.

S.M. Wright Beat Out Competitive Projects

Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) partner Dallas Innovates previously reported that the City of Dallas was in the running for the smart-city testbed grant; December’s award announcement takes the city’s plans one step closer to completion.

The S.M. Wright project was one of 46 applicants that requested more than $205 million in innovation-fueling grants from USDOT’s Federal Highway Administration.

“This year, in addition to ITS (intelligent transportation systems) technologies to reduce congestion, the grants will fund projects that support autonomous and connected-vehicle technologies,” the release stated, adding that the grants will pay for early deployments of forward-looking technologies that can serve as national models.

“The program selections this year look to the future to help ensure that our nation’s highway network is able to accommodate the many advanced technologies on the horizon,” Federal Highway Administrator Nicole R. Nason said in a USDOT release.

On Dec. 31, the administration announced 10 recipients of the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) grants, including $4 million toward S.M. Wright.

“This $49.6 million in grant funding will support innovative solutions to improve connectivity and help prepare America’s transportation systems for the future,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in the release.

Total cost of the S.M. Wright project is estimated at $79 million, and its completion date is projected for late 2023 or early 2024, Khankarli said. He said successful applicants for the grants were required to find local financial support.

On Jan. 14, 2021, the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Regional Transportation Council discussed the project; the RTC is providing half of the $4 million cost of local, additional funding for the project.

Additional links:

A version of this story first appeared in Dallas Innovates, a collaboration between the DRC and D Magazine.