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Smart road design ideas examine lighting, energy and self-diagnosis solutions for roads and bridges

The highways of the future won’t be fully functional without the ability to interact with vehicles (and drivers) and the capability to adapt to environmental conditions. Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies are currently being tested by the U.S DOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems program, as well as by some firms in Europe.

Smart Highways

Glowing Lines Initiative

Areas of focus include:
— GLOWING LINES: Phosphorescent tiles, which soak up energy during the day and then provide hours of light at night
— DYNAMIC PAINT: Using paint that is sensitive to temperature
— DYNAMIC LINES: Can be controlled and adjusted to manage traffic flow
— INTERACTIVE LIGHT: Uses motion sensors in streetlights to illuminate the lamps only when motorists are present
— ELECTRIC PRIORITY LANE: Dedicated lane for electric vehicles that enables en route charging via induction

Developers in the Netherlands are testing out various intelligent roadway technologies through the Smart Highways project, a collaboration between construction firm Heijmans and designer Daan Roosegaarde.

In 2014, Smart Highways launched the Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bike path, in the municipality of Eindhoven, that features embedded glowing tiles. These phosphorescent tiles, which soak up energy during the day and then provide hours of light for cyclists at night along the 656-yard stretch, are patterned after Van Gogh’s iconic “Starry Night” painting.

This project is part of the program’s Glowing Lines initiative, which is one of five areas of focus for the Smart Highways project. The group tested another Glowing Lines pilot project on the N329 highway in Oss, which has been labeled the “N329 Road of the Future.” This project performed so successfully, that the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure asked for a similar design on additional highways.

Three additional focus areas for Smart Highways innovation relate to visibility, including Dynamic Paint, Dynamic Lines and Interactive Light.

The Dynamic Paint program explores using paint that is sensitive to temperature. This could create markings that become visible when road conditions are slick, such as during rain or ice, then become transparent when road conditions are safe.

Dynamic Lines could be controlled and adjusted to manage traffic flow as needed, such as in the event of emergency conditions or lane shifts.

The Interactive Light program uses motion sensors in streetlights, and would illuminate the lamps only when motorists are present. They could also be used to notify passing motorists of impending speed limit changes.

The final area of focus includes the Electric Priority Lane, which would provide a dedicated lane for electric vehicles and enable en route charging via induction. This could potentially address a range of issues for electric vehicles, and promote their use, but would also require the greatest initial investment; for both materials cost and accommodating adjustments to electric vehicle technology.

Sensors on the rise

Future highways and bridges incorporate the “Internet of Things,” including using advanced sensors in new and existing structures. This year, information technology analysis firm Gartner Inc. predicts that nearly 5 billion connected “things” will be in use, with that figure exploding to 25 billion in the next five years.

Internet of Things

This year, information technology analysis firm Gartner Inc. predicts that nearly 5 billion connected “things” will be in use, with that figure exploding to 25 billion in the next five years.

A current example of this technological integration of infrastructure is the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) is using $355,000 in Federal Highway Administration Accelerated Deployment Demonstration funds to create a sensor network on the bridge. This network will be used, in what NHDOT calls a “living bridge,” to monitor bridge conditions and self-diagnose and report problems to transport officials.

NHDOT plans to integrate 250 sensors into the structure, which will collect information on traffic volume, structural stress, vibration, wind speed, humidity and temperature. Like many of the roadway lighting solutions being proposed, these sensors will be powered sustainably. Instead of relying on sunlight, hydroelectric power will be used via a turbine system attached to the bridge pier.

— Chris Hill

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