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Columbus, Ohio Wins Smart City Challenge, Grant to Build Next-Gen Transport System

The city beat out six other finalists with a community-focused transportation concept that combats disparity

The winner of the Smart City Challengea nationwide competition to win a grant from the Department of Transportation to help develop a next-generation municipal transportation that addresses automation, climate change, and urban inequalitywill build an aggressive, forward-thinking program that will change the city and create a blueprint for transferable technology. According to Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther, his city's proposal will be a "game-changer" for the city and the nation.

During a press conference this afternoon to announce the winner of the challenge, Mayor Ginther, along with Jeff Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, Secretary of the Department of Transportation Anthony Foxx, and Barbara Bennett, President and Chief Operating Officer of Vulcan, a corporate sponsor providing additional funding for the winner, spoke about their hopes for the Columbus proposal and why it beat out the six other finalists.

One of 78 submitted when the competition began, the Columbus plan includes connected vehicles and smart infrastructure, and centers on a set of three self-driving shuttles, dubbed CMAX, which will connect residents in underserved areas to jobs. The plan aims to help an area that suffers from poor health outcomes, higher-than-average infant mortality, and economic disparity, using transportation technology as a tool and means to improve access to jobs and services. Secretary Foxx suggested that the city’s comprehensive, holistic plan won in part because it shows planners "were able to connect the problems they identified to technology solutions that are measurable."

The proposed transportation system relies on a card and kiosk system that mothers can use to pay and access transportation to medical appointments, as well as book and pay for these appointments, setting up an easy method to measure results and effectiveness. The plan focuses on the underserved Linden neighborhood, hoping to utilize a variety of new transport options and improved ride-sharing network.

"They have a good chance for success," says Secretary Foxx, "and can help other cities. There’s no one way to be a Smart City."

According to Zients, the country is on the cusp of a transportation revolution. New technologies such as self-driving car, connected vehicles, and smart streetlights will help save some of the $160 billion U.S. citizens spend in time and gas stuck in traffic, increase mobility for seniors and others, and significantly reduce car crashes. He said that this challenge is a start, and that the government will be releasing guidelines for the sales of self-driving cars starting this summer, covering deployment as well as proposed rules for vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

In addition to the $40 million challenge prize provided by the DOT and $10 million from Vulcan, the city also has lined up $90 million in local matching funds, including $63.9 million from corporate sponsors and $21.5 million in city investment.

Vulcan, headed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, recently announced it will lead a coalition of industry partners to help the other six finalist city complete their plans. The Smart City Challenge has attracted support from a variety of organizations and private companies, including the Electrification Coalition, GM, Nissan, Lyft and AAA.

Smart City Challenge: 7 Proposals for the Future of Urban Transportation [Curbed]