How transportation agencies can maximize infrastructure investments with network modernization

Across roads, highways, rails, and airports, federal, state and local transit authorities are rolling out new digital infrastructure to enhance safety and make transportation more efficient. The deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, smart cameras, lidar systems and other sensors is designed to increase awareness of traffic and surface conditions, so officials can more quickly identify and fix problems. However, the vast amount of data these systems collect requires a robust network infrastructure to ensure the data is captured quickly and securely.

To respond to the growing need for better safety and service, government agencies are working to modernize their infrastructure. In the meantime, they can add IoT technology that can communicate information in near-real time. The benefits can include improving safety and emergency response time from first responders, minimizing traffic jams, and enhancing travel experiences.

Agencies have installed several types of IoT devices on roadways, including smart cameras and video sensors. With a reliable 5G network and mobile edge computing (MEC), agencies can process data from these sensors near the spots where it is collected, instead of sending it through the home office first. That means they can deliver critical information about traffic accidents, debris, fallen tree limbs, and other road hazards to first responders in near-real time. 

5G connectivity also enables agencies to deploy new services, such as software-directed networking, ensuring the most important information receives the fastest and most reliable transmission available. 

Another step transportation agencies can make is to adopt a network-as-a-service (NaaS) model, which makes network and service management much easier. What’s more, agencies can use a NaaS framework to embed advanced security controls throughout their communication systems, which can help secure data and workloads from the edge to the cloud.

IoT traffic monitoring has enormous potential for improving safety, but many departments lack the funds to distribute it widely, leaving vast stretches of roadway uncovered. In the future, as illustrated by a successful pilot program at the Arizona Department of Transportation, agencies could solve this problem with a combination of MEC, vehicle-to-everything technology (V2X), and virtual roadside units (RSUs) to deliver alerts across a broader area to Naas both emergency responders and drivers. 

Because RSUs extend signals without the need to deploy expensive physical infrastructure, they improve cost-effectiveness as well as expanding communications.  Emerging IoT technology could help authorities keep better track of road conditions. For example, researchers at Purdue University have developed a sensor system that measures the strength of roadway concrete. Communicating this information to agencies could help them better plan maintenance projects and shed new light on materials performance. 

Railways also use IoT devices to monitor their infrastructure and many are expanding their adoption of technology to improve freight and passenger services. For example, sensors along the track can scan railcars as they pass, checking wheel and bearing condition and axle alignment. Several companies have developed systems using a combination of lasers, sensors, cameras, and ultrasound to detect track defects, helping transit officials know where to focus repairs to avoid derailments and accidents.

As with road monitoring, the key to success for these systems lies in quickly transmitting the right information to the right people. Agencies often struggle with this crucial step, overwhelmed by data and uncertain about how to share it. Because railway technicians are scarce and must travel long distances to address problems, the sooner they find out about potential hazards, the better. 

By adding a dependable 5G network and MEC to their IoT infrastructure, transportation leaders can ensure timely, secure communication of road and rail hazards to emergency responders, technicians, and citizens 24/7. It takes little time to set up a network, and existing sensor systems can start generating benefits immediately. 

The federal government is encouraging state and local agencies to submit proposals for modernizing their transportation infrastructure. Agencies can apply for funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Application deadlines are looming. Agencies can find further information about funding and examples of use cases by visiting the US Department of Transportation’s “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation” (SMART) web page.