1. Transportation

Tampa's connected-vehicle program looking for volunteers

TAMPA — Drivers on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway can save on their monthly toll bill by volunteering to test new technology that will warn them about potential crashes and traffic jams.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway gets federal contract award for connected vehicle program

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority is seeking 1,600 volunteers as part of its connected-vehicle technology pilot program, which aims to improve the safety and ease of driving in Tampa. The program is set to start in April 2018 and run through December 2019.

Those who are selected will receive a 30-percent toll rebate for trips on the Selmon's reversible lanes, up to a maximum of $550. They'll also be among the first in the country to test this type of technology, which has been at the forefront of transportation discussions for several years.

Their vehicles will be outfitted with devices that "talk" to other connected vehicles to help prevent crashes. That device will also interact with traffic signals, pedestrians' smart phones and other infrastructure.

For example, drivers entering the Selmon's reversible lanes would receive a warning if cars on the road ahead slowed suddenly or came to a stop. If someone enters the lanes in the wrong direction, they'd receive an alert, which would be also be sent to other drivers warning them of the danger.

Those warnings will flash in their review mirror via a special glass that will installed in their vehicle once a participant is approved to take part, said THEA Planning Director Bob Frey.

These types of advances are part of a $17 million federal contract awarded nearly two years ago as part of a Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment. Two other agencies received federal Department of Transportation contracts: Wyoming's grant focuses on using the new technology to move freight, while New York City has used its share of the money to outfit taxis with devices and to make tightly-spaced intersections in dense neighborhoods safer for drivers and pedestrians.

"We're all looking at different things, trying to look at it from a different perspectives and solve different problems," Frey said. "Tampa is the only one that has participation so the general public can take part."

In addition to installing the technology in their own vehicles, people will also be able to participate as pedestrians through an app on their smartphones. The app, which should be available for download in February, will allow folks to request a walk signal at several intersections along Meridian Avenue. On some downtown streets, it will also sent out an alert if a bus or streetcar is starting to move nearby.

Buses equipped with the devices will be given priority at traffic signals to keep them running on schedule. The device would also warn a streetcar operator when a car is turning right at an intersection as the streetcar is approaching. About 20 buses and streetcars will be part of the pilot.

"Ultimately, we'd like this technology to grow and reach the entire region so all of Hillsborough County and those who drive downtown can benefit from it," Frey said.

The technology doesn't keep data on individual drivers or commuting patterns, Frey said, but instead looks at overall trends in the entire testing zone. For example, the expressway authority will look at whether the connected vehicles help decrease delays or reduce the number of crashes.

Said Frey: "We want to see how this impacts the roadway and how it makes it operate more efficiently."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.