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Will the stimulus extend to ITS?

Next week Barack Obama will become the 44th US President, and not since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, has an American leader been faced with so many challenges, not least of which is the country’s crumbling infrastructure. Transport reporter James Gordon assesses to what extent President Obama’s economic stimulus package will target funds at ITS technologies.

In December a coalition of top transport officials from California, New York, Michigan and Oregon called on Congress to carry out major investments in traffic technology as part of President-elect Barack Obama’s much-heralded economic stimulus package (ESP).

ITS America, which led the coalition, says that investing in ITS will ease congestion massively and could stimulate the economy. Paul Feenstra, the vice president of government relations for the organization, says the coalition will meet with Congress this weekend to discuss what proportion of the economic stimulus package will be devoted to intelligent transport systems.

Boost to efficiency

“We don’t know too much at the moment,” says Feenstra, “but I would expect the sort of technology that will be considered will be VMS technology and open road tolling schemes to reduce congestion. We have also been working closely with carmakers and Congress to improve collision rates and lower vehicle emission rates. We are working hard with Congress to find a better way of implementing these technologies,” he says.

Scott F. Belcher, ITS America’s chief executive, agrees, “As Congress and the in-coming Administration prepare to invest millions of dollars in the nation’s infrastructure, it is vital that this stimulus plan also puts our nation on the road to long-term economic recovery and competiveness. ITS applications like intelligent intersections with synchronized traffic lights, weigh-in-motion truck inspections, electronic tolling, collision avoidance systems, smart transit vehicles, and real time information about traffic conditions and travel options will make transportation safer, more efficient, and will lead to greater productivity and a cleaner environment.”

Budget boosts in 2009

The ESP is likely to be the first of two federal funding boosts for the country’s transport infrastructure during 2009. Obama has also committed to backing the reauthorisation of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU), which establishes the basis of federal transport funding in the USA, and is due to be passed in September.

“Nobody knows what the stimulus and SAFETEA-LU bill will mean,” says Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for pressure group Transport Alternatives.

“But I don’t think that a lot of funding will be allocated to ITS technology. Some money could be assigned to variable messaging signs to free-up bus lanes in periods of congestion. However…it’s really about spending money on low-tech systems.

“I don’t think the congestion charge will get a look in,” adds Norvell. “Congestion pricing in America is seen very much as an innovative pilot, and I don’t think it will be linked in to the government transport packages.”

Congestion charging

But ITS spokesman, Paul Feenstra, disagrees. “Congress is likely to consider toll charging schemes,” he says. “I think the hope is that the ESP and the SAFETEA-LU will greatly improve America’s transportation system and advance 21st Century solutions to the challenges facing our nation’s transportation and policy leaders.”

We should know in the next few weeks whether Obama’s new transport policies will embrace ITS, or target federal dollars at more prosaic infrastructure investment.

What do you think are the chances for a Presidential boost to telematics in the USA?



With telematics we will be able to move to a new age of the car in which intelligent speed management is used to remind drivers of the speed limit and can slow them down, if necessary, to a valid limit.

These telematics products must be produced in large numbers worldwide - certainly several hundred million.

For more details on intelligent speed management, please visit

A new era for the car has begun.


Christian Schwarz

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