Austin to apply to be 'Smart City' for $50M to improve traffic

Austin traffic on I-35. (KEYE TV)

Austin is going up against cities across the nation for $50 million to improve transportation. The city will apply for this Smart City Challenge Thursday afternoon. It's a U.S. Department of Transportation challenge to inspire cities to use technology to improve transportation.

Targeting mid-size cities, USDOT will choose a city that utilizes technology to increase mobility and do it in a cost-effective way. Austin says with its technology businesses in town and its efforts to improve transportation, it's a perfect candidate to win.

To win the challenge, the city says it's focusing on several things including improving driverless cars, increasing censors on the roadway and changing their outlook on monitoring traffic to look at it regionally instead of just city-wide.

"We're looking at doing business different," Jim Dale with the transportation department said.

Dale said at some point they might put TxDOT, the city and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority under one roof to monitor traffic. Currently each organization has its own monitoring center.

Working together, Dale said they'll be able to help traffic flow smoother. For example, if a TxDOT road has a crash then the city can control traffic lights to better flow the traffic that's using its roads to get around the accident.

The CTRMA said they're actually already doing that.

"What we're really looking it is try to be even better at it," CTRMA spokesperson Steve Pustelnyk said.

Pustelnyk said they've already installed several censors and monitors throughout the roadways like what the city of Austin has and will put in. However, this grant will help them install more which will help everyone know when a crash happens immediately.

"We may know about an incident long before a 9-1-1 call comes in," Pustelnyk said.

Dale said getting that $50 million would accelerate all of their current plans for improvement. He said it would put them years ahead which would help the city and maybe even the nation. "That's one of the main points to the DOT's challenge here is to make sure whatever the winning does, it can be replicated elsewhere," he said.

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