Columbus awarded $50 million in Smart City grants
Columbus will be the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City.
The city beat out six other finalists for the competition to receive $50 million in grant funding from the federal government and Vulcan Inc. to develop Columbus into the nation’s proving ground for intelligent transportation systems.
That means that, soon, driver-less vehicles will roam parts of Columbus, access to electric vehicle charging stations will incease and and more cars will be able to communicate with traffic signals and other transportation infrastructure.
Federal officials will be in Columbus on Thursday to crown Columbus as the winner of the challenge, besting San Francisco, Austin, Portland, Kansas City, Denver and Pittsburgh.
“This funding is a game changer for the City of Columbus and central Ohio. I’m glad the Department of Transportation recognized what so many of us already know – Columbus is a smart city that deserves to win this challenge,” Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement.
The city also has about $90 million in local matching commitments lined up, including $19 million in public money. That gives it a total of $140 million to upgrade Columbus’ transportation network.
Mayor Andrew J. Ginther declined to comment.
Asked about the decision, a U.S. Department of Transportation spokesman declined to comment but pointed to information released Tuesday that said the federal government and Vulcan would support the losing cities pushing their plans forward, including help from finding philanthropists to fund electric vehicles.
Public officials will make a formal announcement about the grant on Thursday in Linden, an area that the city plans to target for transportation upgrades.
In its application, the city pointed out that Linden has “a high proportion of carless households, unreliable access to employment and health services, a lack of access to digital information, and a high portion of cash-based households.”
A transit pass payment system that could be used for multiple forms of transportation, including COTA and app-based car services, could help those who don’t have credit cards or bank accounts. Kiosks could be built to reload transit cards, or the city could use a smartphone app as a universal payment system.
“This grant will help meet the transportation needs of Ohioans who live in the low-income neighborhoods in and around Columbus to ensure they can get to their job, or receive a good education,” Sen. Rob Portman said in a statement.
Columbus’ application includes several other transportation innovations, including an autonomous vehicle test fleet at Easton Town Center that would pick up passengers at the COTA terminal and deliver them nearer to jobs at the shopping center.
Columbus also wants to increase electric vehicle access in the city and improve communication between vehicles and infrastructure, which could help reduce crashes.
A key point in the city’s bid was how the money could be used to improve Columbus’ infant mortality rate. Officials have said that improving transportation options in poor neighborhoods could better connect new and expectant mothers to health care services.
Ohio’s congressional delegation lauded the city on Tuesday for winning the grant.
“Thursday will be a historic day for the City of Columbus, and illustrates the power of Congress, the city and other partners working together,” Rep. Joyce Beatty said in a statement.
She said the improved transportation system would be the first of its kind and help create jobs in the city.
“We stand ready to help transform Columbus, the city where I grew up, with bold transportation solutions and to inspire other smart cities around the country to do the same,” Rep Pat Tiberi said in a statement.
Dispatch reporter Lucas Sullivan contributed to this story.