Driverless cars?

The future of transportation is driving into Arlington! The city has been named as part of an “Automated Vehicle Proving Ground,” or an area where driverless cars and trucks can be tested.

Last year, 22 agencies within Texas worked together to submit a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the state to be designated an AV Proving Ground. The USDOT awarded 10 sites nationally, and the “Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership” was one of them.

Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso are included in the Partnership. In North Texas, Arlington is getting the most attention because of where the test areas are located: the University of Texas Arlington campus, the city’s Entertainment District and a 15-mile stretch of the I-30 corridor.

Dr. Christopher Poe of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute has been involved in the project from the beginning. “I think one of the things that makes Arlington very attractive is in a very small geographic area you have a high-speed freeway and managed lane which is right next to an entertainment district, where it has a lot of people tying to get to their destinations,” he says. “And then just to the south of the entertainment district you have the UTA campus. Again, it’s a high-density area, a lot of people trying to move around.” Poe says these various environments make Arlington a unique place to test some of the AV technologies.

There’s no word, however, on when testing will happen.

While the federal government gave the green light, the project approval did not include any funding. “We have to rely on public agencies or private companies that are interested in some sort of AV technology to come forward, and those will be the first tests done,” says Poe.

Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams is more optimistic about the timeline.

“Right now, we are into a revolution of transportation technology that is going to afford Arlington great opportunities,” says Williams.

The mayor hopes to have a pilot project this summer. He may get his wish. The new technology has already been introduced in the city. In February, the Easy Mile AV Road Trip 2017 made a stop at the Arlington Convention Center to demonstrate the EZ10 driverless shuttle. About 200 people rode in the shuttle, and, according to Mayor

Williams, everyone who did said it was a great experience.

Dr. Poe says there’s a reason Arlington was added onto Easy Mile’s national tour: “I’ll tell you what Arlington has that is maybe ahead of the pack is that there are some staff at the public agencies that are very proactive in trying to get a pilot project started.”

Once a pilot project is launched, you won’t look over and see an empty car on the road. Poe says the early testing of an autonomous vehicle will always be done with a driver or technician in the front seat to be able to take over in any event.

Mayor Williams says that while he understands there is fear in the unknown, this is an exciting time for Arlington.

“We’ll have an opportunity for our citizens to actually try it out for themselves and to be able to see whether they like it,” says Williams. “And I love that about a pilot program; it’s not permanent. It’s just something we are trying out.”

As the 10 proving grounds try out the technology, they will report back to the U.S. Department of Transportation and help it formulate a plan to roll out the technology on a national level.

Toni Randle-Cook

Toni Randle-Cook is a contributing writer for AT Magazine.