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Bringing U.S. Roads Into the 21st Century: A Wide Range of Technologies and Techniques Are Now Available to Vastly Improve the Performance of Our Transportation System, But We Have Been Slow to Adopt Them (Report)

Issues in Science and Technology 2010, Summer, 26, 4

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Information technology (IT) has transformed many industries, from education to health care to government, and is now in the early stages of transforming countries' transportation systems. Although many think that improving a country's transportation network means solely building new roads or repairing aging infrastructure, the future of transportation lies not only in concrete and steel, but in the implementation of IT. IT enables assets throughout the transportation system--vehicles, buses, roads, traffic lights, message signs, and so forth--to become intelligent by embedding them with microchips or sensors and empowering them to communicate with each other through wireless technologies. Doing so empowers actors in the transportation system--from commuters, to highway and transit network operators, to the actual devices themselves--with information (that is, intelligence) to make better-informed decisions, whether it is choosing which route to take, when to travel, whether to take a different type of transportation (for example, mass transit instead of driving), how to use traffic signals to allow the most efficient flow of vehicles possible, where to build new roads, or how to hold providers of transportation services accountable for results. This information can be used to maximize the performance of the transportation network and to move toward performance-based funding of transportation systems.