Free Essay

Smart Road

In: Computers and Technology

Submitted By kathryndilsworth
Words 2166
Pages 9
Imagine you are driving at night on a winding road. The snow is coming down and you cannot see, as you begin to approach a curve. You make out dim brake lights of traffic ahead, but despite the driving conditions, you feel safe. How can you feel safe under these conditions, you ask. Very easily, the way of the future will be Scott Brusaw’s Smart Road. Owned by Virginia Department of Transportation, the Smart Road will lead to safer highways and vehicles, more conventional travel, and less stress behind the wheel. Researchers will get to apply their creative ideas to real-life situations in a low-risk environment, while business developers could gain profitable partnerships and new projects. The Smart Road is a rare, state-of-the-art, full-scale, closed test-bed research facility which features weather-making capabilities, an experimental lighting system, pavement markings, road weather information systems, a signalized intersection, a differential GPS system, road access and surveillance, and a computer-equipped control center. It is the first of its kind with a long history and possibly an even longer future.
It all started when the idea and the proposal for a connecting road from Blacksburg to Interstate 81 was introduced in 1985. Roanoke Mayor Noel Taylor favored the idea introduced by Roanoke-Virginia Tech Advisory Council in 1986. The following year the Department of Transportation was asked to consider short and long-term answers for traffic jamming along Route 460. Governor Gerald Beliles’ identified a new road to serve as a direct link between Virginia’s largest university and southwest Virginia’s largest city. In 1988, the study of Route 460 for improvements began and in 1989 a breakthrough was achieved when Roanoke County Supervisor, Dick Robers suggested the linking road be used for research on "smart" cars and highways. That same year Congressman Rick Boucher asked for and received funding for the first Smart Road built from the ground up. In 1991, a Federal transportation bill provided $5.9 million for research and planning and the Commonwealth Transportation Board selected the location for the Smart Road in 1992. A federal grant awarded $3 million to the center in 1993 for research on the Smart Road and in 1994; Gov. George Allen promised state funding for building the test bed. General Motors joined a group of companies in 1995, which included Virginia Tech and put it as one of the country’s top transportation research institutions. The design continued with assistance from the Citizen Advisory Committee and groundbreaking took place on July 8, 1997. Constructions of the first phase were completed in 1999 and phase two including a bridge in 2002. As funds become available, the entire road to I-81 will be designed and built in a series of test beds for research into emerging transportation technology.
The Smart Road is a joint project of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute (VTTI), and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Phase one of the project was completed by Vecellio & Grogan Inc.(Beckley, WV) and consists of a 1.7 mile, two-lane test bed on a four-lane right-of-way now open for research; and a large western end turnaround for normal speed turns by test vehicles. Phase two was completed by PCL Civil Constructors Inc. (Canada) and is two miles in length, including an eastern end turn around for non-stop test-driving, 200 yards of roadway, and a 2,000-foot bridge designed by Figg Engineering Inc. (Florida).
The Smart Road Bridge is Virginia’s tallest bridge at 175 feet above Wilson Creek and hovers about 2,000 feet over Ellett Valley. It spans 450 feet when the average span is 397 feet long and includes three 472-foot spans when the average on most bridges is 150 feet. Its massive double-strength four concrete bridge piers are reinforced with steel twice as thick as the steel in standard bridges creating a super strong deck. Concrete box structure beneath the roads surface will carry power and communication lines with access points through the surface for test equipment. The bridge, weighing in around 40 million pounds has some of the properties of a suspension bridge and includes inlaid Hoki, which is a decorative type of stone. In 2002, the Smart Road Bridge received a Design Award from the Concrete Reinforced Steel Institute (SRSI).
In the third phase of the project, eastbound roads to bypass the test track and the Route 460 Corridor Study were approved. Bruce Harper (Blacksburg, VA) completed this phase in January 2003. While the "connect the bypasses" project, which involves 4.4 miles of freeway flawlessly linking the US-460 Christiansburg Bypass and the US-460 Blacksburg Bypass, cost $125 million, one mile of freeway extending the US-460 Christiansburg Bypass to Interstate I-81, cost $62 million. These costs included preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition, and construction. The Blacksburg Interchange on US-460 has the ramp connections to the Smart Road. The 641 Corridor, selected to be built in the future, will cut 4.5 miles off the distance between Blacksburg and Roanoke. If funding allows, the road will be widened to four lanes along the entirety of the Smart Road.
The Smart Road is equipped with enough technology for scientists to conduct research now and well into the future. The original 2-mile test track includes 14 experimental pavement systems and 600 pavement designs. Fiber-optic cable links more than four hundred electronic sensors, which monitor concrete stress, asphalt strain, soil pressure, moisture entrance, frost depth, vehicle speed/weight, and traffic counts. The Smart Road's advanced communication system includes a wireless LAN interfaced with a fiber-optic backbone. The network borders with several on-site data acquisition systems and road feature controls, transfers data between the vehicle, research building, and infrastructure within the road. All of these features assist in the characterization of pavement lifetime, long- and short-term performance, behavior under dynamic loading, and instrumentation assessment.
A fully staffed dispatch team monitors the Smart Road from a computer-equipped control center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The center, a 30,000-square-foot building at the west end provides monitoring and control of pavement sensors, power grids, surveillance cameras, weather generation, lighting and overhead message signs, and communication with test vehicles. It is the office space for Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute, Virginia’s Department of Transportation Research Council, and companies that contract to use Smart Road. There is a garage and a shop for the experimental vehicles, and room for three additional buildings
Although the Smart Road is not discoverable on any map, it may be one of the most important stretches of highway anywhere. Ray Pethel, associate director of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, states it is the only real-highway test bed in the world, and the only all-weather testing facility capable of producing a variety of test conditions on demand such as rain, snow, and ice. The facility contains 75 weather towers, 40 feet high that rotate 360 degrees to handle the wind conditions. The towers can create drizzle or downpours of two inches of rain per hour in different sized droplets. In cold weather the towers can produce a dusting of snow or up to four inches of snow an hour, including a layer of ice for studying de-icing and anti-icing. Air and water pressure and flow can be duplicated consistently. A 500,000-gallon water tank allows operation at peak capacity, which is 180,000 gallons per hour.
Researchers also have the ability to create a variety of lighting conditions on an actual highway built to the highway specifications. The variable lighting allows different visible conditions to be created on demand, as well as the study of the effects of lighting technologies on driving visibility equipment. The Smart Road can reproduce about 95% of the lighting situations a driver may face on the road. Studies of new road signs, UV-sensitive pavement markers and striping, pedestrian safety, and vehicle headlights to help drivers see better in these weather conditions are researched at the facility. A variety of offset system lights overlapped will help in the development of higher visibility highway markings and message signs. In the near future local area wireless network for short-range communications and future ITS applications, such as automated highway systems, position location, data collection from sensors, and dynamic in-vehicle information systems will be added.
So, what exactly is the Smart Road? The Smart Road is a series of structurally engineered solar panels that are driven on. The idea is to change all current asphalt roads, parking lots, and driveways to solar road panels that collect energy to be used by our homes and businesses, and to be able to store the extra energy in or alongside the solar roadways. The renewable energy will replace the need for the current fossil fuels used for the generation of electricity now. This will cuts greenhouse gases in half. The road surface layer, infused glass that is high-strength and rough enough to provide great traction will still let light through to the solar collector cells implanted within as well as LEDs and a heating element. It can handle the heaviest of loads under the worst of conditions, and is weatherproof so it protects the electronics layer beneath it. The electronics layer contains a microprocessor board with support circuitry for sensing loads on the surface and controlling a heating environment. This means no more snow and ice removal or school and businesses closing due to the weather. The on-board microprocessor powers the lighting, communications, monitoring, etc. With a communications device every 12 feet, the solar roadway is a very Smart Road. The base layer distributes power and data signals down line to all homes and businesses connected to the road, which it gets from the electronics layers collection of energy from the sun.
When multiple solar road panels are intersected, the intelligent solar roadway is formed. These panels replace any road or parking lot, and any home or business connected to the solar roadway receives the power and data signals the roadway provides. The solar roadway becomes an intelligent, self-healing, decentralized (secure) power grid. Imagine a worldwide system where the lit half of the world is always powering the dark half of the world. Everyone has power without power shortages, roaming power outages, and 50% less of the greenhouse gases. This means less of a need for fossil fuels and less dependency upon foreign oil, as well as less pollution. The long-term advantage would be an electric road that allows all-electric vehicles to recharge anywhere, such as rest stops, parking lots, etc., and they would then have the same range as a gasoline-powered vehicle. Internal combustion engines would become obsolete, and our dependency on oil would come to an abrupt end. Many problems such as fog and visibility on mountainous road will no longer be a problem. Smart Roads will improve pavement marking visibility in wet weather better, as well as the highway lighting. Car pile-ups due to icy roads and bridges will be eliminated. Vehicle safety systems will be evaluated and improved along with truck and driver safety. The smart road will also reduce the cost of pavement and bridge maintenance in the end.
In 2007, a ton of liquid asphalt cost $175 and now it is at $1,000 a ton because it is petroleum based. If we rid the nuclear plants and the coal plants, which cost millions to build, that money, can be rolled into the Smart Road. Roads today collect heat, where the Smart Road collects electricity and will pay for its self in the end. If all 25,000 square miles of roadway in the lower 48 states become solar panels and they are only 15% efficient, then it will supply three times as much power as the country uses on an annual basis. This would almost be enough to meet the demand of power for the entire planet.
The Smart Road has many benefits but at the same time, it also scares people about driving on glass. I am a firm believer in change, especially if it betters my son’s future or my own. I will leave you with a closing quote one said by Thomas Edison in 1931, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! O hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Works Cited
History of the Smart Road. (2010, 04 12). Retrieved from Virginia Department of Transportation: http://www.virginiadot.org
The Virginia Smart Road. (2012). Retrieved from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute: http://www.vtti.vt.edu
Kozel, S. (2004, 02 19). The Smart Road. Retrieved from Roads to the Future: http://www.roadstothefuture.com
Patterson, T. (2011, 01 19). Building up America. Retrieved from Cable News Network: http://www.cnn.com

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