Cities Vying for $50 Million in USDOT Smart City Challenge Make Final Pitches

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Alex Brandon / AP File Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

“It’s really started a wave of innovative thought in transportation,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said of the grant competition.

WASHINGTON—Mayors from the seven finalist cities in a federal grant competition, which could provide access to as much as $50 million for next-generation transportation initiatives, made their final pitches to officials here Thursday.

Using transportation technology to address issues tied to social equity, and preparing American cities for advancements with self-driving vehicles and sensors that will allow for the collection of vast amounts of data, were among the overarching ideas in the presentations by the mayors.

The U.S. Department of Transportation launched the grant competition, known as the Smart City Challenge, last year.

The seven finalist cities are Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was among those on hand at Thursday’s event.

Pointing to emerging transportation technology, Foxx said: “Now is the time to start figuring out how it actually works. How we actually can apply it to solve problems for real people.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (center) speaks before the final pitches.

Initially, 78 cities applied to the Smart City Challenge. USDOT winnowed those applicants to the seven finalists. The program will grant up to $40 million of federal funds—contingent on appropriations. The winning city will also become eligible for as much as $10 million from Seattle-based Vulcan Inc., a firm started by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

The single city selected as the competition’s winner would act as a testing ground for technologies meant to help urban transportation and infrastructure systems operate more reliably, efficiently and safely.

Route Fifty profiled each of the cities Smart City Challenge finalists during the last two weeks.

Included in the finalist cities’ applications are plans for projects like self-driving shuttle buses, traffic signals that use machine learning to time signals so vehicle flows are improved, and sensors that detect road conditions in real time.

The USDOT is expected to choose a winning city this month.

Foxx told Route Fifty after the presentations on Thursday that one valuable aspect of the competition was that it pushed cities to examine the future of their transportation systems.

This is especially important, he said, at a time when, until late last year, a long-term surface transportation funding bill remained elusive in Congress—creating uncertainty for state and local governments looking to plan infrastructure projects. “What happens is, at the local level, people stop planning,” Foxx said. “They’re just trying to keep water from piling up in the boat.”

The Smart City Challenge, he added, also spurred cities to consider “whether the conventional forms of planning are going to work for the 21st century.

“It has really started a wave of innovative thought in transportation,” Foxx said.

Thursday’s pitches took place at a gallery space near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, before a crowd of about 200 people. At least another 2,000 online viewers watched a livestream video of the event, which was hosted by Government Executive Media Group's Route Fifty.

The Smart City Challenge at Long View Gallery.

Each mayor spoke on a stage for about 10 minutes describing their city’s plans. Their presentations also included slickly produced videos.

During a reception after the pitches, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales applauded the Smart City program, and suggested that all the proposals put forward by the finalist cities deserved funding.

“They ought to keep this momentum going,” he said, referring to the federal government.

Addressing economic divides, and ensuring that low income and minority communities are not left behind as new developments with transportation technology take root has been a key theme throughout the competition. “This isn't about technology. It's not about streets. It's about people,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said during his pitch.

Foxx noted that the challenge differs from past transportation planning processes.

“One of the changes in approach that this challenge introduces is thinking about inclusion at the front end,” he said after the presentations. “Thinking about that before you create these divisions.”

Partnerships across government entities, with nonprofits and with the private sector have also proven to be an important element in the competition. For instance, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther noted that his city managed to corral an additional $90 million of funding commitments that would come on top of the $50 million available through the Smart City Challenge.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said Thursday was the first time he’d heard descriptions of the other six proposals. “My emotion was God bless America,” he said. Not just because of the technology, but also because of the idea “we get to use transportation to be a great equalizer, as opposed to a barrier,” he said. “It reconfirms what values that we have as American cities.”

Bill Lucia is a Reporter at Government Executive's Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: Denver Positions Its Role as a Hub City for Smart City Challenge Bid

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.