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Turnpike fiber optic project would help accommodate ‘smart’ cars

A fiber optic cable running the 550-mile length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will prepare the toll road for future data needs, including those connected with “smart” cars.

The line will be installed under a project approved this week by the state’s Public-Private Partnership (P3) Board.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission can now begin seeking industry input and expects to request private sector statements of qualifications beginning in October.

Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said the project is required because the agency’s microwave communications “backbone” is aging and increasingly costly to maintain.

“The backbone is one of our most critical communications tools, carrying tolling data and connecting traffic management devices such as intelligent transportation systems,” Compton said, as well as being capable of handling future data needs, including those which will arise from connected or “smart” vehicles.

Officials said they are pursuing a P3 model for the project because bonding the fiber’s construction would take away resources from other Turnpike capital improvements.

Such a partnership also allows the commission to take advantage of private-sector expertise in installing, operating, marketing and maintaining fiber optic cable in a region that could be attractive to private-sector connections in nearby metropolitan areas, officials said.

The commission expects to select a preferred partner in June 2017, with portions of the line installed and operational in 2018.

The news also comes as state transportation officials and lawmakers are collaborating on development of guidelines and legislation to govern autonomous vehicles in Pennsylvania.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at [email protected].

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