Another step for the future of transportation was taken last week on Interstate 66 in Centreville.
The Federal Highway Administration tested groups of three tractor-trailer platoons on the interstate as part of a four-year research project.
With freight transportation already a major part of traffic on roads throughout the U.S., and expected to more than double over the next 25 years, the FWHA believes truck platooning is one way to ease congestion caused by tractor-trailers while also improving safety.
Platooning, in automotive technology speak, is a technique in which vehicles ride together, somewhat like a train car. The vehicles are connected, but not physically. Instead, they are linked by devices that allow for vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
The key technology in this case is the use of “Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control.” This, according to the FWHA, allows the rigs to follow each other more closely (about one second apart) and in a more coordinated fashion.
I–66 isn’t the only Virginia roadway that will be used for testing innovative auto technology.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board in July approved an agreement to use the express lanes on Interstates 95 and 495 to test the emerging connected vehicle technology. No timeline for testing has been announced yet.
The agreement calls for initial testing to be done when the express lanes are closed, but eventually the plan is to test under light traffic conditions.
These tests will include cooperative adaptive cruise control and such techniques known as “speed harmonization” to create smooth traffic flow, as well as connected vehicle technology aimed at changing lanes and merging.
Speaking of innovative technology, the startup Hyperloop One (which recently ran a successful test of its prototype in the Nevada desert at a top speed of 192 mph) last week announced 10 potential routes for the futuristic tube-based transportation.
The routes are in spots across the globe, but not in Virginia. One is in Colorado, and the Colorado Department of Transportation has signed on for a study that would carry Hyperloop pods from Pueblo to Cheyenne.
An interesting note on the possibilities for the Hyperloop is that it could be used for freight traffic. As noted above, platooning trucks and cars on the roads should be a positive advancement. But it appears that Hyperloops could do so much more by taking a large segment of traffic completely off the roads and rails.
One has to also wonder whether a Hyperloop would be a better option than the proposed Southeast High Speed Rail, which would add another track to rail lines along the East Coast, including through Fredericksburg.
The Hyperloop is unproven and who knows if it’ll ever come to fruition, you say? And wouldn’t it be super expensive?
Those are legitimate concerns.
But consider this: The rail proposal, which has meandered through the bureaucratic machine for three decades, would be super expensive.
The preferred alternative for the 14-mile Fredericksburg segment of the proposed rail line has an estimated price tag of more than $500 million. The 47-mile segment from Stafford to Crystal City would cost more than $1.6 billion.
That ain’t chump change, folks.
And while there are doubters of the Hyperloop, there also are those who have been involved in transportation for a long time who doubt the new rail line will ever come to fruition.
Virginia sees itself as a hub of emerging technology and thinking outside the box when it comes to transportation, and in many ways that is true.
Is the Hyperloop even on the radar in Virginia?
I’m told there has been some talk by the state’s transportation leaders about the Hyperloop potential, but not much.
In the meantime, we’ll have to be satisfied with platoons of cars and trucks.