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The advent of highly intelligent infrastructure has cast government organizations in to a brave new virtual world. Moving forward, the resulting reverberations will challenge public officials to redefine the most basic principles in cultivating cities, regions, and states that thrive in a new era of infrastructure development and public investments while navigating the challenges and pitfalls inherent to uncharted territory. Policies are frequently imprecise, technologies are commonly oversold, and conventional wisdom may at times serve as a limiting factor in harnessing new innovations. Regardless, those who succeed will fundamentally shape the next chapter of civic life while others will benefit from those who have paved the way.
As the head of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems branch, I have the distinct honor of standing at the intersection of this brave new virtual world and an institutional legacy of more than 100 years of pioneering innovation in Colorado, including blazing the transcontinental highway system through America’s most challenging terrain – the Rocky Mountains. As new digital paths emerge, transportation agencies’ need for a reliable foundation is paramount to enabling further discovery in intelligent transportation systems. While the static of public debates will continue, targeted, near-term investments in the following three areas will soon determine the public-sector forerunners in shaping the future of next-generation mobility in the United States.
Connecting Our Roadways
Roadways physically connect us to nearly everything. As a result, the key to a safer, more mobile, and more efficient future will require virtually connecting people with transportation networks through intelligent infrastructure. This connectivity will in turn serve as the canvas for creating advanced solutions to the contemporary challenges facing transportation authorities while reducing accidents, helping to provide timely traffic information in all types of environments, and improving the overall efficiency of our roadways. This same technology will expedite auto manufacturers’ ability to deploy autonomous vehicles, unlocking new advanced forms of mobility. Connected roadways are already achieving these kinds of benefits in early deployments around the world.
Protecting Our Roadways
Transportation across all modes is a vital service to cities and regions. As transportation systems such as traffic lights, road sensors, mass transit, and airports become increasingly connected and more complex, the threat of cyberattacks will grow proportionately. As a result, leading public sector institutions must expand their focus toward monitoring and defending against virtual threats to connected transportation systems. Specifically, this will require experienced security personnel and strong security policies for defending against attacks. Simply put, to be a leader in technology requires being a leader in cybersecurity first. This is the key to guarding against potential pitfalls including significant disruptions or shutdowns to transportation services and unauthorized remote access to segments of the transportation infrastructure.
Making Our Roadways Smarter
Transportation systems are becoming information systems. As a result, governments need to be prepared to get their hands dirty - with big data. This may still be a bit nebulous to some institutions, but in five years it will have changed every aspect of public operations. Big data is a critical and future-focused catalyst for enabling mobility innovations of all kinds, and those who seek to innovate will benefit from consolidating appropriate staff resources, developing a system of progressive data governance, and engaging in strategic planning around big data systems. Ultimately, true intelligence starts by having the right data and information at hand. Regardless of the latest trends in technology, having a firm grasp on the underpinning information systems that make our roadways tick will allow public institutions to grow and adapt in a resilient way.