Va. Tech Companies Lead Smart Highway Push

Not only that, they're predicting the traffic-laden regional freeways will turn out to be an economy-driver

Northern Virginia has a disproportionately high level of the state's traffic -- but luckily, it also has a higher-than-average number of firms that can help.

Many of the leading companies developing, applying and evaluating advanced transportation technologies in the United States have a major presence in Northern Virginia.

And these firms, many of which are defense companies retargeting their wares, are leading the state in its efforts to implement Intelligent Transportation Systems, or ITS.

"ITS is going to be a huge area for economic growth in Virginia," said the state's Transportation Secretary Robert Martinez.

Not only will businesses benefit, but Virginia will too as the technologies are deployed to reduce congestion problems on the state's roads, he said.

Martinez said initiatives to apply advanced transportation technologies in Virginia are being led by the private sector and the universities, "and that's the way we want it," he said.

In most states, the Transportation Department has been the leader in supporting ITS, said DBH Consulting President Doug Ham, who is also president of a new group, Intelligent Transportation Systems for Virginia, or ITSVA.

But in Virginia, Secretary Martinez and Governor George Allen have said they want the private sector to lead the way -- and companies and universities in Virginia are taking charge.

Bell Atlantic, George Mason University, and the University of Virginia are three of the six ITSVA charter members; region three of the Federal Highway Administration, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Center for Innovative Technology are the other founders.

The group's board of directors includes representatives from Lockheed IMS, Loral Federal Systems, Castle Rock Consultants, KSI Inc. and Allied Signal Inc.

Ham said ITSVA seeks to identify and promote job creation and economic growth in the state through deployment of a strong transportation industry.

Although the group is based in Annandale and many of the participating firms have their offices in Northern Virginia, the group is dedicated to addressing the needs of the entire state, Ham said.

But it's Northern Virginia that has the most to gain from putting together an advanced transportation system.

The region is home to 7 percent of the state's roads, and they carry almost a quarter of Virginia's total traffic. And travel in the area is expected to grow by more than 55 percent by 2010, according to the Northern Virginia Economic Roundtable.

While the state's private sector takes the lead in developing new technologies, research institutions in Virginia are addressing institutional issues that likely will benefit the nation.

The state's universities, VDOT's Transportation Research Council and the Center for Transportation Research in Blacksburg are investigating obstacles to implementing ITS, including environmental considerations and procurement difficulties.

Virginia has one of the largest highway systems in the country, an entrenched technology industry, and valuable university resources, Ham said.

"We have all the basics for being a leader in the ITS business," he said.

Regional economic growth experts have said that with some strategy development, the capital region could become an international center for research and development and application of Intelligent Transportation Systems.


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