IOWA CITY — Eastern Iowa could soon see the first autonomous-vehicle-only road in the state, a transportation official said Thursday.
Iowa Department of Transportation Director Paul Trombino, who was in Iowa City, called it just a “concept,” but one that could materialize fairly quickly.
“The opportunity for us is a slow-speed roadway essentially from the campus area likely out to the North Liberty area, in conjunction with the (Interstate) 380 project, only for autonomous vehicles,” Trombino said. “We are thinking of it as a real time transit-only movement that would be all autonomous.”
The University of Iowa Alumni Association and the Iowa City Area Development Group hosted a presentation about transportation’s role in economic development, featuring Trombino, Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Kathryn Kunert, vice president of business and community development at MidAmerican Energy, and Marty Lenss, director of The Eastern Iowa Airport.
Trombino said a team is working on a framework for the autonomous vehicle roadway and is trying to attract Google to partner in the effort, perhaps providing the autonomous vehicles that would serve as the transit.
When asked which road would be used, he said the plan is to “scope it out” this summer. Trombino said given it would be a slow-speed roadway, “we could turn this around pretty quickly.”
“It fits into our overall plan of what we are trying to do between the communities,” Trombino said.
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The Iowa DOT has been working with Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and the surrounding communities on improving commuting options between the cities while decongesting I-380, which is due for further delays when the replacement of the Interstate 80-380 interchange begins.
Trombino’s comments are a sign of support for ICAD’s efforts to recruit autonomous vehicle testing to the area, which was backed by resolutions welcoming the technology from Coralville, Iowa City, North Liberty and Johnson County. ICAD announced the plans last summer.
“I am just very encouraged that people aren’t automatically discounting it as ‘let’s just let California figure this out,’ ” said Coralville Mayor John Lundell, who was in attendance. “Instead, we are saying this technology is coming, why not be one of the leaders. I am encouraged to see (Trombino) being a leader to welcome this technology in the state.”
The UI’s National Advanced Driving Simulator also studies automated vehicles in controlled environments and likely would be involved.
Trombino said Google has conducted road testing in California but may be interested in other locations with different climates, which could make Iowa a destination.