The Georgia Department of Transportation has planned an unprecedented barrier-separated, commercial vehicle-only lane project along Interstate 75 North that’s also set to be the nation’s first smart commercial vehicle corridor. The nearly $2-billion, decade-long project is in the environmental planning phase. Barring any shift in legislative support, it has been budgeted and will move forward with construction scheduled to start by 2026, said agency spokeswoman Natalie Dale. The proposal calls for building two separate northbound lanes on about 40 miles of I-75. The primary goal is to tackle congestion at a notorious commercial and passenger traffic bottleneck, Dale said. The stretch of interstate handles freight coming to Atlanta from the Port of Savannah. With the recent expansion of the Panama Canal and deepening of the harbor in Savannah, the port plans to double its capacity in the next 10 years. Cargo transportation is therefore expected to grow. Atlanta had the eighth-worst traffic congestion in the world last year, according to Inrix, a transportation analytics firm. Drivers spent nearly 20 percent of their driving time in traffic during peak hours. It also has two of the top 10 truck traffic bottlenecks nationally. This I-75 corridor is already past capacity, so instead of just building another lane, the state’s transportation department has opted for a more innovative approach, Dale said. The agency expects the lanes to reduce delays by 40 percent in 2030.
The agency has also decided to make the road a “smart” highway, said Jay Roberts, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s planning director. “Smart” technology refers to adding sensors into the roadway to better inform drivers and vehicles about conditions on their route such as traffic congestion or roadwork. Using road-to-vehicle communications, the technology can even warn drivers when they are taking a turn too quickly. That could mean laying fiber optic cables, though they have not finalized the details. He said the hope is for the corridor to be capable of hosting whatever new technology will be available at the time of completion, including features to support autonomous technology like truck platooning. Platooning systems digitally tether two or more trucks to reduce drag and save fuel by allowing them to travel closely together in a tight formation. Though a dedicated lane is not necessary for platooning as envisioned by Peloton Technology, a Mountain View, Calif., company working to commercialize the technology, the idea “is interesting and seems valuable for testing of higher automation,” said Rod McLane, Peloton’s spokesman. The new lanes will become a “technology test bed” for connected commercial vehicle technology experimentation, said Ed Crowell, head of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association.
“A lot of states are looking at this to see how it’s going to work,” Roberts said. There are many options for “smart” technology available that the Georgia project could employ, said Marcus Welz, head of Siemens’ Intelligent Traffic Systems. Fiber along the road would speed up the relay of information between vehicles and infrastructure, but Siemens offers standalone “roadside units” that can warn drivers of conditions such as congestion ahead, bad weather, road work and difficult turns along the roadway, he said. Highway departments can opt to mount those devices wherever they see fit without the need of fiber, he said. He called the system a “digital twin” of the warning signage usually found along roadways. Given increasing interest in the technology from manufacturers, cities and states, it’s good timing for Georgia to consider adding the capability, Welz said. Some passenger car models are offering the in-vehicle system to support it, and truck manufacturers have also expressed interest, he said. Siemens has offered it to customers for two years and has already installed the technology in Tampa Bay, Fla., and Las Vegas. When highways are equipped with the technology, fleets that regularly travel the route purchase aftermarket devices that enable their drivers to take advantage of the features, he said.
Regardless of the specific smart technology Georgia uses, “they’re going to build the road with the idea that this is a place where technology can be constantly upgraded and constantly changed,” Crowell of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association said. The local trucking industry is very optimistic about the project, he said, particularly because it is non-tolled. Previous commercial vehicle lane projects with tolls have failed without industry support. Even if it does not work out, “all they have to do is change the signage and there’s additional capacity for general passenger lanes. About the only downside is I don’t think it’s supposed to open before 2029,” he said.