Ohio’s connected vehicle testbed


    Construction of a connected vehicle testbed outside of Columbus, Ohio, is evidence of a transformational change taking place that will advance the state’s reputation from an industrial giant to a technological powerhouse. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), Gannett Fleming, and Team Fishel worked in partnership to employ intelligent transportation systems to complete Phase 1 of the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor.

    This project was born out of the vision to meet the high-speed internet needs of a growing community anchored in the automotive industry. The City of Marysville, Ohio, applied for and successfully acquired funding through the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). From this, the NW 33 Innovation Corridor Council of Governments was created to oversee the project. ODOT funded the entire Phase 1 development and shared in this vision with the NW 33 Innovation Corridor Council of Governments. The grant received by the City of Marysville, along with other funding, will help finance the additional phases of this shared vision.

    This multi-phased project includes nearly 40 miles of fiber, roadside communication devices, and real time on-road testing. It is adjacent to the internationally recognized Transportation Research Center (TRC), the largest independent car testing facility in the nation, as well as the Ohio State University Research and Automotive Center, Honda America’s Headquarters, and more than 50 automotive suppliers.

    Once all phases of the project are complete, this stretch of roadway will provide a model of how to safely test connected and automated vehicles (CAV). Changing the future of transportation in Ohio, and across the world, starts with a robust communications network that will support the reliable exchange of big data.

    Backbone of a smart corridor

    The initial phase of establishing this Smart Mobility Corridor included construction of a telecommunications building next to the new TRC Welcome Center and installation of 37 miles of Alcoa Fujikura (AFL) 432-strand high-capacity fiber optic cable to connect the Dublin Metro Data Center (MDC) with the TRC Welcome Center.

    U.S. Route 33 carries as many as 50,000 vehicles per day through rural and urban settings, including the cities of Dublin and Marysville. Data collected along this limited-access four-lane divided corridor and urban local streets in Dublin and Marysville will allow ODOT and others to test smart transportation technologies, provide accurate traffic counts, monitor weather and surface conditions, and deliver incident management improvements, ultimately yielding safety benefits to the traveling public.

    What’s the value in enabling these capabilities? Suppose there is a traffic incident blocking a specific lane along the stretch with CAV services — an alert can be transmitted to the vehicles behind it that there is a lane closed ahead. The cars following could avoid the danger and move to another lane, avoiding a traffic jam or another potential incident.

    In areas where the cable was installed by boring, a technician using a locator receiver box walked above the pilot drill head that was already in the ground and got the directional drill rig operator within an inch of exactly where the drill head and utilities where located.

    Delivering a fast-track project

    The project operated on an aggressive schedule — design and fiber installation needed to be finished in about 100 days. Taking an integrated design-build approach, Gannett Fleming, as the engineer of record, and Team Fishel, as the contractor, developed a unique plan to complete this project — the designs were completed in three linear buildable units and one vertical buildable unit.

    Typically, most projects are designed in full and then handed off to contractors and clients for review and approval. For this project, the team completed the designs in increments and then passed them on for review and approvals. Once approved, construction would begin on that portion and design would begin on the subsequent step.

    Gannett Fleming designed these buildable units one at a time in compliance with the ISO-9001 certification quality review process. Team Fishel participated in review of the designs and provided comments every step of the way to ensure no time was lost in making revisions. Gannett Fleming then made those changes and submitted the revised plans to ODOT for approval.

    This process worked effectively and efficiently as it minimized the number of plan review comments from ODOT. It also allowed Team Fishel to become intimately aware of the design that they were going to install, eliminating surprises during cable installation. From the design of the first buildable unit through completion, the teams worked together using this seamless process.

    Overcoming obstacles

    Teams bored one-third of the corridor to avoid utilities and plowed the other two-thirds. Photo: Ohio Department of Transportation

    As productive as this process was, there were still hurdles to overcome so the teams could complete the project on time and avoid contract disincentives.

    The absence of overall mapping of the 37-mile corridor was a challenge for the design team from the beginning. To complete the project on time, and with no time to fly or survey the entire corridor, the team took a minimalist approach that relied heavily on gathering existing data. They used LiDAR survey data, available mapping found on the web, existing plans, and minimal ground survey for control to create a baseline map for their design.

    Utilities were another challenge the team encountered. Without mapping utility location, the teams were at risk of conflicting with existing utilities, potentially causing a setback to the project schedule and disrupting services to utility customers.

    The team brought on a subsurface utility engineer to help avoid transmission mains and used Team Fishel’s real-time avoidance approach for the smaller utilities. This approach enabled the teams to pothole and avoid the utilities as it encountered them, and minimized the amount of upfront mapping and coordination that was needed with the utility companies.

    There were still times in which the teams required precision to avoid utilities, go under a culvert or an existing roadway, or in more urban areas where utilities were tight. In those cases, instead of plowing the line in, they bored it.

    A technician, using a locator receiver box, walked above the pilot drill head that was already in the ground and got the directional drill rig operator within an inch of exactly where the drill head and utilities where located. The teams did not hit utilities when drilling this line in as they were able to alter alignment and depth easily on the fly.

    Once drilled, the drill rods were then retracted and the 2.62-inch conduit was pulled through a bored line that was typically no longer than 500 feet.

    There was at least one plow and as many as three drill rigs running per day to ensure the project stayed on schedule. In total, the teams bored one-third of the corridor and plowed the other two-thirds. Plowing saved money and time, so the team used the rule of thumb that “if we can plow, we are plowing.”

    Building for the future

    The 432-count fiber optic cable is in one inner micro duct out of the seven that are available in the conduit the teams installed.

    The project was completed on time and is set up for the next phase because of the innovative design process and the teams’ ability to work collaboratively to overcome hurdles.

    As the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor is one of the first of its kind and CAV is just coming to the marketplace, it’s hard to estimate how much data the fiber cables will need to carry. The 432-count fiber optic cable is in one inner micro duct out of the seven that are available in the conduit the teams installed. Multiple variables — including the type and amount of data going across the fiber, the data speed requirements, and the sending equipment at the Dublin MDC — affect how much the AFL-432 can handle. Six inner micro ducts remain open and ready for the expansion of fiber if data transfer loads exceed current capacity or other needs develop.

    This project has multiple phases ahead of it, including deployment of roadside unit devices along U.S. Route 33 and at several signaled intersections in the cities of Marysville and Dublin. The current plan is for these devices to allow communications to occur from vehicle-to-vehicle through a digital short-range communication network with onboard units installed.

    The CAV transformation starting in Ohio will change the future of transportation; the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor will provide a model area to safely test CAV. The Phase 1 completion of the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor is the foundation for this change.


    In January, Ohio Governor John R. Kasich signed an executive order creating a one-stop shop that will make it easier for researchers to advance connected and autonomous vehicle technologies. The new center, DriveOhio, will bring together those responsible for building infrastructure in Ohio with those who are developing new transportation technologies to better coordinate efforts and connect transportation providers with automotive and equipment manufacturers.

    Initially housed within the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), DriveOhio is a partnership between ODOT, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Administrative Services, the Ohio Turnpike Infrastructure Commission, the Public Utilities Commissions of Ohio, the Department of Insurance, the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, and the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department.

    Jim Barna, currently chief engineer and assistant director of engineer policy for ODOT, will leave that role to lead DriveOhio as its executive director. Barna has worked at ODOT for more than 22 years and as a civil engineer for more than 28 years.

    To ensure the center is meeting the needs and keeping up with innovations in the industry, an expert advisory board will be created. The board will include leaders in the automotive, telecommunications, software development, insurance, data, cyber security industries, as well as researchers and developers, among others.

    As a first step, the department issued a Request for Proposals asking teams of engineering, technology, and data companies to compete for a contract to develop a statewide technology and data framework for its smart mobility initiative. The executive order also calls on ODOT to begin outfitting its fleet vehicles with devices that that can start tracking data that will be beneficial to advancing connected-vehicle research.

    Shane Campbell, PE, is a project manager at Gannett Fleming, a global infrastructure and engineering firm headquartered in Harrisburg, Pa., that provides progressive solutions for transportation, earth sciences and natural resources, geospatial, water, power, and facilities projects. Contact him at scampbell@gfnet.com or at 614-794-9424.

    Team Fishel (www.teamfishel.com) is a utility engineering, construction, and network installation contractor headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. With 2,100+ teammates working out of 35 offices in 12 states, Team Fishel serves the telecommunications, broadband cable, electric power, natural gas, and low voltage technology industries. Contact Team Fishel at info@teamfishel.com or at 614-921-8602.