Bill pumps funds to states to ease traffic

In an effort to accelerate the use of technology on the nation's roadways the Clinton administration last week offered in its transportation reauthorization bill new incentives for state governments to deploy intelligent transportation systems.

The Clinton administration is asking for nearly $1.3 billion over six years for ITS.

ITS includes electronic toll-collection facilities that allow drivers to zip through a toll booth and have the toll electronically paid computerized control of traffic signals where traffic flow can be accelerated as needed and traveler information systems. ITS aims to minimize traffic problems by controlling the flow of traffic wherever possible and by giving users access to traffic information so they can avoid problems when they develop.

Many such systems have been developed by states but often in a haphazard manner. The reauthorization bill called the National Economic Crossroads Transportation Efficiency Act (NEXTEA) aims to further ITS deployment by devoting $100 million a year to small-incentive grants to metropolitan areas to help them integrate ITS deployments.

The Grand Total

All together the Transportation Department is asking for $250 million in fiscal 1998 for ITS and $200 million every year after that through 2003 to further the development of ITS technology and systems.

"Virtually all major cities and some [rural areas] have components of ITS in place but they haven't linked them together " said Christine Johnson director of the ITS Joint Program Office at DOT. "The $100 million is an incentive to integrate ITS. Integration is to make sure folks have linked systems [and have formed] a communications platform that [allows] them to share information. It's a powerful tool."

Johnson said the assumption is that deployment of ITS on a nationwide basis will be funded through state and local expenditures.

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America a nonprofit organization that backs the development of ITS supports DOT's approach. "We agree with DOT that we're ready for many of these systems to be deployed across the country " said Mark Johnson staff attorney at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. "It's important the federal government provides leadership not just with funding but also with the development of national standards so that all systems talk to each other."

In addition to ITS integration the grants also could be used for deployment of the ITS infrastructure and for research programs.

NEXTEA requires that systems conform with the national architecture and ITS-related standards and protocols made by DOT. The bill also allows DOT to provide technical assistance such as training to state and local governments interested in implementing ITS technologies and services.

"I think there are many in industry calling for a large set-aside for nationwide deployment of ITS. I think we have proposed a very scalpel-like program to do exactly what is needed and not more " DOT's Johnson said.

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