'Connected cars' that alert each other, you could be tested on I-90

The Illinois tollway may collaborate with the private sector on a federal program testing so-called connected vehicles that issue warnings about crashes, road conditions and sloppy drivers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is researching vehicle-to-vehicle technology that allows cars to “talk” to each other by exchanging information about potential hazards, which ultimately could help avoid crashes.

Tollway administrators hope to partner with their engineering consultants CDM Smith on the DOT pilot project using the Jane Addams (I-90) corridor, which is being widened and rebuilt. The tollway is installing electronic message signs on the Jane Addams as part of a “smart corridor” program, which will give drivers real-time information using gantries placed every half-mile that display short alerts about traffic, speeds and alternate routes.

That upgrade makes the Jane Addams eligible for the government's connected-vehicle program, although the U.S. DOT would actually contract with CDM Smith, not the tollway.

“We're in a unique position to contract with the private sector,” Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said at a Wednesday committee meeting. Ultimately, connected vehicles will be able to pick up tollway alerts about traffic and delays, engineers said.

Tollway Chairman Paula Wolff requested more analysis of the benefits and risks. “Is it taking time and energy away from what we should be doing?” she wondered, asking whether other states should be guinea pigs and the tollway could learn from their mistakes.

Lafleur recalled her car was hit by another vehicle a few years ago and the accident might have been avoided if such technology was in place. “I think we have an important role to play, given we're one of the few agencies that can do this,” she said.

The test program would be funded by the U.S. DOT. Expenses the tollway incurs would be limited to staff time, Lafleur said. The tollway board will discuss the issue again next week.

The I-90 smart corridor would run between the Kennedy Expressway and Barrington Road.

Kristi Lafleur
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