Guest Column:

Bill would help turn up speed of innovation in transportation

Thu, Nov 30, 2017 (2 a.m.)

We know that phones and watches can be “smart” in this day and age, but what about cities? Can our communities be smart, too?

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and Washoe County have shown that they can.

In 2015, both Las Vegas and Reno kick-started plans to become smart cities in response to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Smart Cities Challenge”. In the challenge, mid-sized cities across America were asked to share their ideas on how to combine technology, data and applications to address chronic community challenges – in other words, how to make their cities “smart.” The city with the best idea would receive a $40 million grant from the Department of Transportation to implement its proposal.

Though neither Las Vegas nor Reno was chosen as the winner of this challenge, both cities proposed ambitious projects designed to use technology to expand public transportation access, optimize traffic flow, improve pedestrian safety and reduce emissions through lessening traffic congestion and expanding electric vehicle capabilities. Even without the grant money, Las Vegas has charged ahead with its plans, partnering with companies like Cisco, Hitachi, Motionloft and Numina to introduce various technologies to improve the safe and efficient movement of travelers and commerce.

Ultimately, Columbus, Ohio, was the Department of Transportation’s challenge winner. The grand prize opened the door to groundbreaking public-private partnerships between local businesses and the city government to address the area’s specific local challenge of a high infant mortality rate. Within months, the city of Columbus had generated $90 million in additional investment from area stakeholders. The city of Columbus is a shining example of what can be accomplished when the government works with local communities to develop innovative solutions to the challenges they face.

The realization of the Smart Cities grant in Columbus is only the beginning of a smart communities revolution in the United States. The federal government should continue supporting and encouraging the kind of innovation we saw in cities around the country following the Smart Cities Challenge.

That is why my colleague Richard Burr, R-N.C., and I introduced the Moving and Fostering Innovation to Revolutionize Smarter Transportation, or the Moving FIRST Act, in the Senate. This bill would build on the success of the Smart Cities Challenge by establishing a similar Department of Transportation grant program available to mid-sized cities and by adding additional funding opportunities for rural communities.

The federal funding offered by the Moving FIRST Act would encourage more innovative partnerships with the private sector across Nevada to address our local transportation and commerce challenges. Additional grant opportunities and planning support for rural communities would ensure no one is left behind as Nevada grows.

To that end, the expanded Moving FIRST bill would provide more than $100 million in grant money for rural technology projects that could improve transportation options and internet access.

I believe that Nevada, as one of the fastest growing states in the nation, and one with a strong innovation business base, has the unique opportunity to lead the way in smart community planning. Our growing metropolitan areas, business friendly environment and abundance of natural resources make us an ideal place for the advancement of smart technology.

As we continue to explore an infrastructure bill in Congress, I will keep working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass the Moving FIRST Act and ensure that federal funding is made available for infrastructure opportunities throughout Nevada.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., was elected to the Senate in November after serving two terms as Nevada attorney general.

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