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Minnesota Plans for Connected and Automated Vehicles

Date:
September 24, 2020
Topics:
Connected Vehicles and Infrastructure, ITS, Resources

Emerging technologies such as connected vehicles (CVs) and automated vehicles (AVs) raise significant questions in the statewide and regional planning processes. In order to address the uncertainties, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Office of Connected and Automated Vehicles (known as CAV-X) developed a Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) Strategic Plan to guide the state’s planning processes and investment decisions with respect to technology change.[i] This built off earlier work such as the state’s CAV Advisory Council, research projects, and demonstrations and public outreach.  During months of research and outreach to stakeholders through regional workshops and other methods, CAV-X gathered as much information as possible on the future of vehicle technologies and public sentiment.[ii]

Project Purposes

The CAV Strategic Plan was developed to address future directions for Minnesota’s capital investment, research and development, partnerships, regulation and policy, transportation system operations and maintenance, staffing, interactions between modes of transportation, external communications to decisionmakers and the public, and long-range planning. 

To address the various issues on MnDOT impacts and processes, CAV-X conducted a multi-step planning process. This began with a scan of the industry to identify gaps where Minnesota could develop research and investment. A strategic visioning workshop with partners around the state led to the development of an overarching vision for the future of transportation technology. An online survey was distributed to RDOs, cities, counties, and other local and regional entities to assess whether they had begun to plan for vehicle connectivity and AVs. Less than 5 percent of respondents had, making the next phase of regional workshops an important one for communicating information about vehicle connectivity and AVs as well as gathering feedback to use in the planning process.[iii]

Recognizing the wide amount of uncertainty about evolving technologies, the pace of change, roles of public and private sector partners, and adoption by the public and fleet owners, MnDOT chose to present scenarios of possible future directions. CAV-X staff used four scenarios with a 20-year time horizon, based on six scenarios developed by the FHWA but tailored to Minnesota’s demographics. These scenarios were shared at workshops around the state in the next phase of data collection. Eight workshops were held in smaller cities and rural communities around greater Minnesota, and an additional four workshops were held in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area.[iv] The staff and members of MPOs and RDOs attended workshops held in their areas, and the regional planning partners also assisted MnDOT by inviting regional stakeholders to participate. Attendees included practitioners in the transportation industry and local decision-makers such as mayors and county commissioners, as well as some consultants.[v]

Each workshop began with a CAV 101 presentation intended to set the context for the planning process, work from a common set of ideas about transportation technologies, and dispel assumptions. The attendees divided into four groups that each discussed one scenario, with a series of facilitation questions around the potential benefits of the scenario occurring, steps to achieve those benefits, potential risks, and steps to mitigate those risks.  Attendees often reacted to the uncertainty of the future by asking questions outside of their assigned scenario, but trained facilitators used guided questions to bring attention back to the variables of that scenario. After the breakout group discussions, the entire group of attendees gathered to report back for a synopsis from each group.[vi] Workshop attendees were very supportive of the fourth scenario, which assumed that CVs and AVs were the dominant mode of transportation and mobility was highly shared. However, rural residents, in spite of their support for the scenario’s ideals, expressed doubts about implementation due to a comparative lack of broadband connectivity and other challenges.

MnDOT CAV-X staff used four scenarios to present possible futures for CV and AV technology adoption. The scenarios included: Advancing technology; Connected infrastructure; Private automation; Integrated mobility. Source: CAV Strategic Plan

Outcomes

The workshops were an effective way to gather professionals with a role in transportation and other disciplines, including city and county planners and engineers, MPOs and RDOs, local transit agencies, non-profits, social services, and MnDOT staff. More than 1,750 comments were collected from the workshops conducted in the Twin Cities area and across Greater Minnesota, providing a significant amount of qualitative information to MnDOT.[vii]

MnDOT is already taking next steps to work with local and regional partners to prepare for CAVs. In August 2019, MnDOT published a report through the Local Road Research Board titled How Locals Need to Prepare for the Future of V2V/V2I Connected Vehicles, developed by the Minnesota Traffic Observatory at the University of Minnesota.[viii] This report provides a background on vehicle and infrastructure connectivity, potential applications, types of communication and hardware required for vehicle connectivity systems, and general guidance to local road owners to prepare for vehicle connectivity.

MnDOT CAV-X is also working on a strategic communications framework, so that all of the agency’s staff and partners work from a common set of language and concepts when discussing transportation and vehicle connectivity and AVs with stakeholders around the state. The framework will also lay out demonstrations, events, workshops, and listening sessions throughout Minnesota to provide information to the public and stakeholders about transportation issues, as well as to receive input from them. CAV-X is also conducting research on telecommunications and undertaking an effort to identify corridors needing traffic signal upgrades (including rural corridors), which will be cost-effective system upgrades regardless of the pace of technology change and adoption.[ix] 

Research and innovation are major themes of the CAV Strategic Plan, so that the deployment of new technologies is well understood in Minnesota’s climate and context, such as automated technology needing to operate in cold weather conditions. The University of Minnesota continues to be an important partner for conducting research that benefits MnDOT’s planning and operations, and the state looks to its neighbors for lessons learned and to avoid duplicating similar research occurring elsewhere.[x]

CAV-X staff also hope to have additional resources developed for local partner audiences that can provide answers to some of their questions. Going forward, the CAV Strategic Plan will be tied into other plans developed by the agency, including modal plans as they are updated.[xi]  For more information on the work of CAV-X at MnDOT, visit http://www.dot.state.mn.us/automated.


[i] Personal communication with Kristin White and Keith Mensah, September 2019

[ii] MnDOT (2019). Connected and Automated Vehicle Strategic Plan

[iii] Personal communication with Kristin White and Keith Mensah, September 2019

[iv] Personal communication with Kristin White and Keith Mensah, September 2019

[v] Personal communication with Kristin White and Keith Mensah, September 2019

[vi] Personal communication with Kristin White and Keith Mensah, September 2019

[vii] MnDOT (2019). Connected and Automated Vehicle Strategic Plan

[viii] Hourdos, John (2019). How Locals Need to Prepare for the Future of V2V/V2I Connected Vehicles, Local Road Research Board, MnDOT, http://www.its.umn.edu/Publications/ResearchReports/

[ix] Personal communication with Kristin White and Keith Mensah, September 2019

[x] Personal communication with Kristin White and Keith Mensah, September 2019

[xi] Personal communication with Kristin White and Keith Mensah, September 2019

This report was delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2020. It was primarily authored by NADO Program Manager Rachel Beyerle and NADO Associate Director Carrie Kissel. Many transportation agency staff and others assisted with this project in a variety of ways. We offer deep and heartfelt thanks to all the individuals who have provided information and images, consented to be interviewed, and offered editorial guidance in support of this research. This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation under requisition number HOIT190194PR. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. DOT or the NADO Research Foundation.