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Business Interests Spur Autonomous Vehicle Policy Moves in Wisconsin

November 14, 2017

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Racine, WI, city officals felt they were "ahead of the curve" on traffic issues, until a business considering locating there asked about autonomous vehicle infrastructure. Photo: Peloton
Racine, WI, city officals felt they were "ahead of the curve" on traffic issues, until a business considering locating there asked about autonomous vehicle infrastructure. Photo: Peloton

Is a new trend developing where big business interests are pushing municipalities to develop autonomous vehicle infrastructure?

That seems to be the case in Wisconsin, where the Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturing company, has prompted the city of Racine to study the possibility of developing special lanes for autonomous vehicle traffic on Interstate 94, which runs through the city.

According to Racine’s Centennial Journal newspaper, members of the Racine City Council reported that Foxconn, which is currently considering building a manufacturing facility in a semi-rural area near the city, is concerned about traffic congestion on the highway. The facility could ultimately employ as many as 13,000 workers, the report said.

The state has already allocated money to widen I-94 to eight lanes in the area, along with other local road improvements, which lead city leaders to believe they were “ahead of the curve” on traffic issues, according to Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, who was quoted in the story. “We were all dumbstruck,” Sheehy added, “when they looked at us and said, ‘So where’s the autonomous vehicle lane?’”

As a result of that conversation, the Journal Sentinel reports, Wisconsin transportation planners were asked to consider the possibility. The Department of Transportation is doing just that, a spokesman said Monday.

“Yes, it is something we are looking at,” said Michael Pyritz, spokesman for the department’s southeast region.

Pyritz said the process of evaluating and making final decisions on upgrades to I-94 and other roads near the planned Foxconn complex in Mount Pleasant “is a work in progress,” with many options being weighed.

“It’s on the table,” he said of dedicated lanes for driverless vehicles, “but boy, there’s a lot of stuff on the table.”

One possibility, Sheehy said, would be driverless lanes between the Foxconn plant and Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport as a way to move supplies and products to and from the factory.

The state appears to be one that is encouraging development and testing of the vehciles. Earlier this year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signed an executive order that removes roadblocks to testing autonomous vehicle technologies in Wisconsin. The UW-Madison College of Engineering has been designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as one of 10 national proving grounds for autonomous vehicles. The governor has a Steering Committee on Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Testing and Deployment to offer advice on how to advance the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles in Wisconsin.

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