By Ben Pierce, PMP

The way we move from point A to B continues to evolve. The global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that change. The immediate pandemic impacts on airline, transit, and roadway travel are clear as millions have sheltered in place. How quickly travel among these various modes will resume is less clear. 

What does this mean for transportation technology and the adoption of this technology into our transportation systems? The current crisis may be seen in the future as a momentary pause, with technological progress picking up where it left off following virus containment. Another scenario is market stagnation caused by abandoned plans as bruised governments and private industry try to avoid risk and focus on essentials rather than exploration and innovation. A more optimistic possibility is that we can seize this unprecedented opportunity to make progress by leaps and bounds and even discover innovative ideas that will change the world for the better. 

Here’s what we might see in the coming months:

A Surge of Electric Vehicles 

As traditional automotive manufacturers begin to recover from COVID-19, electric vehicles, with their simpler manufacturing processes, will accelerate. The trend towards electric vehicles will continue to be encouraged by new breakthroughs in battery technology and the experience of cleaner skies from reduced fossil-fuel burning vehicles. Expect increasing demand for new battery-charging infrastructure built near roads. 

Communications Technology for Vehicles Will Remain Uncertain 

For a decade, 75Mhz of the 5.9Ghz wireless spectrum has been reserved for Wi-Fi-based connected vehicle communications. Responding to an increased need for internet connectivity because of the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission temporarily released 45Mhz of this spectrum for use as rural broadband access. If made permanent, this will accelerate the debate between cellular or Wi-Fi based protocols for connected vehicle communications, delaying widespread deployment of either technology. However, don’t expect resolution in protocols anytime soon as the debate will continue to persist for several years.

A Lull in Automated Vehicles

Expect things to go relatively “quiet” the rest of this year with respect to significant automated vehicle announcements. This is part of the natural lifecycle of technology adoption though it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent financial fallout. But look for the excitement to begin to rebuild in 2021 and 2022. Those planning, updating or constructing infrastructure should stick with the core tenets of future-proofing, such as preparing for significant data processing needs, incorporating dedicated power and communications, and including roadway navigation aids. 

Personal Mobility Expands 

Personal mobility devices will rebound and will continue to spread across the U.S. post-pandemic. However, expect companies to be more strategic and targeted in their rollouts. Beyond scooters, other types of personal mobility options will emerge such as “pod vehicles,” electric sitting scooters, electric mopeds, electric skateboards and more. Roadway designers will need to account for the mixed-use roadways needed in the next decade. 

Tolling Continues to Transform 

Tolling will continue its modern evolution. As a New York City central business district tolling launch looms, other cities will set the groundwork for their own cordon-based tolling programs. Discussions will also return to road user charging as an alternative funding mechanism. All-electronic tolling will continue gathering steam, accelerated by agencies seeking to reduce exposure risk of their employees and the public.

Ben Pierce is transportation technology program leader at HDR. See more stories about transportation design and construction industry technology and innovation in ARTBA’s “Smart Design & Construction” supplement.