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Strategic Research Initiatives

Establishing the Smart Transportation Infrastructure Initiative

Imad L. Al-Qadi, Yanfeng Ouyang: Civil and Environmental Engineering

Addressing the Problem

Economic prosperity, energy security, environmental sustainability of our state and nation, and safety and livability of our local communities are heavily dependent on the efficient and reliable movement of people and goods through multimodal transportation systems, including cars, trucks, rail, airports, and waterways. Rapid innovations in connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) in surface and aerial modes, energy sources, crowdsourced services (e.g., ride and vehicle sharing), and socioeconomic changes provide a unique opportunity to fundamentally transform the future of mobility. As the hub of the nation’s transportation systems (air, rail, and freight), Illinois is well-positioned to pioneer the cradle-to-market program of next-generation vehicle technologies and service capabilities and facilitate their full integration into the transportation infrastructure.

Research Goals

The goal of this project is to establish the Smart Transportation Infrastructure Initiative (STII) which combines Illinois’ unique strengths and establish robust partnerships between the government, three world-renowned universities (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and Northwestern University (NU)) spearheading transportation research in Illinois, local and regional municipalities, corporate research and development arms, and startup ventures. Phase 1 of the project focused on the following: 

  • Creating a robust forum to identify the strength, challenges, and research needs within the smart transportation infrastructure field, and
  • Developing a clear roadmap that will foster a partnership between academia, industry, and government agencies and synergize efforts toward the establishment of the Illinois Autonomous and Connected Track (I-ACT). I-ACT will include a robust network of laboratories, autonomous high-speed test loops, urban and metropolitan road courses, urban-rural boundary road courses, and an interstate corridor—an ideal setting to for creating the next-generation transportation technologies for nationally, automated freight, passenger, and agricultural vehicle transportation systems.

Critical Milestones

  • In 2018, the Village of Rantoul pledged to donate 238 acres of land, equivalent to land and building structures value of $15 million. Current efforts are geared to the additional procurement of 180 acres adjacent to the pledged land and the conceptualization stage of I-ACT.
  • The STII business plan was finalized in March 2019 and has been disseminated by STII to expand the network of potential partnerships and collaborations.
  • The Chancellor’s Capital Review Committee unanimously approved the planning stage of the I-ACT testing arena to move forward during their meeting on April 8, 2019.
  • In March 2019, STII was awarded the competitive Investment for Growth Program funding for the planning and design stages of the I-ACT testing arena, specifically with respect to land surveying, route surveys, geotechnical, and environmental review; geometric and structural designs; IT infrastructure plans; data center design; security framework plans; special power grid system; project management; and engineering and administrative support. The funding will also be allocated to the development of a new Master of Engineering program with a concentration on Smart Mobility and Autonomous Transportation and Infrastructure, along with seed funding for research. Part of the planning is supported by an award from the Illinois Planning Bureau.