Advanced vehicle technology leads to safety and economic benefits

From vehicles parking themselves to warning us to watch out for pedestrians when we back up in a parking lot, advanced automated technology is delivering a safer future on many levels.

The Regional Partnering Center, established by Pima Association of Governments to advance policies in regional planning, supports smart region goals identified by PAG such as a modernized transportation system. This includes facilitating advancements in transportation technologies in areas such as autonomous vehicles.

To help usher in a safe, effective, new means of transportation, PAG has partnered with the Arizona Commerce Authority to cooperatively fund future multi-phase transportation research projects in the greater Tucson region in collaboration with the University of Arizona.

The public-private sector partnership supports the goals of the ACA Institute of Automated Mobility, a consortium of private sector companies, public officials and university research faculty collaborating on state-of-the-art research and testing in Arizona.

Testing and use of automated vehicle technology is active across the Pima County region and is leading to new economic activity. Tucson company TuSimple, for example, is testing an autonomous freight network (AFN) to move semi-trucks across the United States. Its efforts began in 2020, with the first phase of connecting Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Plans for the coming years include connections spanning from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla., and then expanding throughout the country.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a nationwide transportation network consisting of mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals to enable efficient, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations,” said Cheng Lu, TuSimple president. “By launching the AFN with our strategic partners, we will be able to quickly scale operations and expand autonomous shipping lanes to provide users access to autonomous capacity anywhere and 24/7 on-demand.”

That expansion comes with direct impacts to Tucson. In late 2020, TuSimple announced it will add 40,000 square feet and 100 employees by expanding shipping at its research and development facility in Tucson. The facility is the hub for all research and development for the company, which is currently testing its autonomous trucks with safety drivers behind the wheel.

“TuSimple plans to demonstrate driverless operations in 2021 and aims to transform the $800 billion U.S. trucking industry by enhancing safety, increasing efficiency and significantly reducing operating costs,” according to a TuSimple news release.

The nation’s aging infrastructure will require significant investments to adapt to emerging transportation technologies. Other factors at play that still need to be considered include consumer acceptance of legislative changes and detailed policy development to guide a safe transportation future.

PAG is the region’s metropolitan planning organization for transportation, air quality, water quality and economic vitality. PAG also manages the Regional Transportation Authority, an independent taxing authority that oversees implementation of a 20-year, voter-approved regional transportation plan. Both PAG and the RTA consider safety and other impacts of transportation technologies as part of their transportation planning efforts.