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Selmon Expressway becomes testing ground for automated vehicles

TAMPA — One day in the not-so-distant future, cars without drivers could start cruising down the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority said Friday the Selmon Expressway has become one of 10 sites nationwide where researchers can study the safety and performance of automated vehicles.

But don't expect driverless cars to join traffic any time soon. Most likely, the vehicles would be tested on the expressway's elevated lanes during non-peak hours when officials could close the lanes to regular traffic.

The designation gives the Tampa area access to the businesses, automakers and researchers developing the technology, said the authority's executive director Joe Waggoner. Long term, the goal is to make Florida a leader in driverless transportation systems.

"We think this is a coming revolution in transportation. A lot of the technology is there,'' Waggoner said. "What it comes down to is moving it into practice. We want to know what it takes and be a part of it.''

Florida hit the gas on automated vehicles in 2012 when lawmakers passed legislation allowing the cars to be tested on public roads. Only Florida, California and Nevada have such rules.

The Selmon Expressway is one of two sites statewide that have been approved for driverless car testing by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The other is in downtown Orlando.

The expressway authority is working with the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research to develop the Selmon Expressway as a test site. Although no timeframe or details have been set, Waggoner envisions also testing automated vehicles on Meridian Avenue and Brandon Parkway — arterial roads connected to the expressway — to simulate a full driving experience.

Proponents say automated vehicles would improve safety and decrease the costs associated with accidents, from insurance to medical treatments. Through advanced computer software, sensors and global positioning systems, the cars could reduce human error and allow higher speed limits. Officials estimate they could become commonplace as soon as 2025.

Susan Thurston can be reached at or (813) 225-3110.