Lenexa has taken the first official step with local company Integrated Roadways to embark on the country’s largest deployment and showcase of smart pavement technology.
The Lenexa city council on Tuesday unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Integrated Roadways that facilitates a public-private partnership for the $8-10 million smart infrastructure installation at five intersections in and around Lenexa City Center, just west of I-435 at 87th Street Parkway and Renner Boulevard.
The MOU allows Integrated Roadways to access the right-of-way for installation and operations of smart pavement at four intersections on Renner Boulevard and one on the western side of City Center.
“This is really exciting. It’s going to be great for the city of Lenexa, it’s going to be great for Integrated Roadways,” said Miguel Jaramillo, director of business development for Integrated Roadways. “Now the work begins.”
Over the next few months, Integrated Roadways and Lenexa city staff will begin planning and design of the smart pavement. They hope to begin launching the technology by the end of 2020.
The various components of the project will still require city approval before the company can proceed. As part of the agreement, Integrated Roadways will provide data reports of its findings to the city. This allows the city to better understand traffic patterns in and around City Center, which will facilitate strategic planning for more efficient transportation.
Tim Sylvester, chief executive officer of Integrated Roadways, noted that the smart pavement does not collect personal data about anyone traveling on it.
Mayor Michael Boehm said having Integrated Roadways come to the suburbs is a meaningful step in terms of the value the city and the company can offer for each other and for other local, forward-thinking companies that call City Center home.
“He saw the value and opportunity to do it here in City Center, which I think is really cool, that he approached us,” Boehm said, adding that it’s a bonus that Integrated Roadways is not asking the city for money to cover the showcase.
Boehm also sees it as an opportunity for the city to become part of the largest test of smart pavement deployment.
“This is our future for transportation in many ways, with smart cars, driverless cars,” Boehm said, adding that he hopes the city can use data on traffic patterns to coordinate traffic flow more efficiently through City Center. “We’re on the forefront of showcasing that.”
Finding new ways to pay for road maintenance
But how will the project pay for itself? The first thing is to get it off the ground. Sylvester said they are exploring federal grant opportunities, and private partners are interested in investing in the project as well.
Sylvester said road maintenance is typically a public expense, but with roadways rapidly deteriorating more quickly than they can be repaired, public agencies are struggling to keep up.
“We’ve been saying for several years now that we need to upgrade roadways to support connected, electric and autonomous vehicles, and public agencies need better information about traffic,” Sylvester said.
As such, once the showcase is launched, those partners will continue looking for future ways to finance maintenance and upkeep of the smart pavement. Some of those options include charging people to access wi-fi. But driving on the smart pavement will be free, Sylvester said.
“The road is treated just like any other publicly funded roadway,” he said. “If someone chooses to use the wi-fi system or the cellular system, which by the way are not being deployed as part of this initial project, but the point is that the revenues are generated from subscribers to the services.
“There is no fee imposed on individual drivers that are just driving on the road. Nor do we ever intend or desire to do so. That’s a tollway model, and what we’re trying to show is there are alternatives to revenue generation that do not require either dependence on the tax base or dependence on toll revenues in order to be able to finance road projects.”
(Integrated Roadways may choose to work with the city of Lenexa on deploying capabilities for wi-fi and cellular systems at a later date.)
Sylvester said “subscribers to the services” could be companies who want to access data collected from traffic patterns that could be used for marketing purposes, data such as how many vehicles travel through a particular intersection, how many drive in a particular lane, what time of day.
This data is “tremendously valuable” to commercial businesses operating in an area, Sylvester added. It’s like web traffic: Companies can learn about click rates, popularity of certain webpages, times of day for high web traffic volumes. These lead to better optimization for web services that allow companies to better target products and services with what target markets are looking for. The same can be applied to smart pavement.
“Our thesis is if we can help the local commercial environment understand more about the road traffic — whether it’s traffic levels, time of day, demographics — they will be better able to match what they have to offer with what people in that area may be looking for,” Sylvester said.