A Smart Plan for American Infrastructure
Tech Giants, the Internet, and Autonomous Cars Will Fix Roads
The Trump Administration has unveiled their long-promised plan for fixing America’s infrastructure. The catch? Most of the funding is expected to come from private investors (ugh, tolls), while cash strapped cities and states will be on the hook for most of the rest.
Why do we continue to rely on centuries-old funding sources like taxes and tolls, and slow, build-in-place construction methods, even though our industries and technologies have advanced immeasurably in recent decades?
I’m the founder of Integrated Roadways, an electrical and computer engineer, and a digital native. I’ve been online since 1988, when I was seven years old, and I’ve been passionate about infrastructure since the 90s — digital and physical. I was using email and playing video games before they were cool. I remember the world before Google, before Amazon, and before Uber, and I’ve seen how transformative new technologies have been for traditional businesses like advertising, retail, and transportation. Technology can bring a similar revolutionary transformation to America’s roads.
You might ask, “Who cares about roads anyway? That’s so last 1950!” But it’s not! Everything people need to survive travels across our road network, from food to consumer devices to building materials. As long as humans have bodies, we will be dependent on physical transportation infrastructure.
America’s Infrastructure is in Dire Straits.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has rated our roads a D+ or worse for 30 years. Public funding created more than 8 million lane-miles of paved roads in the United States, but the method is unsustainable, with nearly half our roads needing major investment, projected to increase to 75% within 15 years. Road building costs have doubled in the last 15 years to $2m per lane per mile, and are expected to double again in the next 15 years.
We can spend $6 trillion to fix roads now or $33 trillion in 2035, but the Trump plan only provides $100b for roads over 10 years — that’s only 50,000 lane-miles out of 3.2m that need improvement, or 1.5% of the current, immediate need. At this point, more public funding isn’t even close to a solution, at best it’s a band-aid on a gaping wound.
Nearly 60% of personal incomes are now paid to government agencies for taxes, fees, permits, licenses, and fines, more than 20x the 3% tax rate that instigated the Revolutionary War against Britain. Our national debt tops $20 trillion, with government shutdowns a monthly occurrence. We can’t keep raising taxes and piling more expenses onto the public if we expect the United States to survive and thrive throughout the 21st Century.
We can’t keep using old methods. We can’t afford to fix our roads “the way we’ve always done it”. We need new solutions to our problems, and we need to anticipate the future needs of our society. We have to take advantage of all our technological and economic development over the last century to deliver a solution that works not only for ourselves, but for generations to come.
Technology Provides a Sustainable Solution
At the same time our roads and interstates crumble, struggling cash-poor cities are expected to invest in Smart Cities sensor networks, municipal broadband, and public-safety Wi-Fi.
Telecom companies are expected to bring fiber to the home, build rural broadband networks, and finance the construction of advanced high-speed 5G networks. Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft have become ubiquitous, but their social impact is contentious, and ride-share has greatly increased the number of vehicle trips, congestion, and the resulting strain on our urban centers. San Francisco roads shut down for hours each day due to outrageous gridlock. LA has the worst congestion in the world, and some NYC streets are nearly impassable.
Online delivery companies like Amazon have displaced brick-and-mortar retail, increasing the complication of logistics and delivery in our cities. Automakers are expected to deliver connected vehicles, electric vehicles, and autonomous cars, but are impaired by deteriorating roadways.
What if these problems are a solution that fits together like a puzzle?
At Integrated Roadways, we’ve been heads-down working to develop a new technology stack, business model, and financing method that fits these pieces together to deliver a long-term solution to all of them in one fell swoop.
Smart Pavement Makes Roads Pay for Themselves
We build roads in factories in sections that are assembled on-site like Lego blocks. This is a better, faster, cheaper construction method that lasts twice as long, builds in half the time, and lowers operations and maintenance expenses by more than half over the life of the roadway.
The USDOT agrees — they funded modular road construction for the last 16 years through the “Highways for Life” program, studied by the Transportation Research Board’s “Strategic Highway Research Program 2” (SHRP-2), and strongly recommended for the benefits I’ve described. Prefab road building is used world-wide, has been demonstrated in more than half the states, and has been used for California interstate improvements in more than 200 projects.
Inside each pavement slab, we use fiber optic sensing cables to make the road “touch sensitive” like a massive trackpad, except instead of looking for fingers we’re looking for tires. Fiber optic sensing technology is used in oil and gas pipeline monitoring, bridge and building foundation monitoring, perimeter security for military bases, and on aircraft and space ships to monitor fuselage integrity. It’s a sensitive, reliable, proven technology.
A Next Generation Network for Bits and Atoms
We “plug in” the road to a robust “Edge-Dense Digital Physical Hybrid Neutral Host Network” — a high-speed wired and wireless network that is designed to transport bits and atoms, data and cars.
This means we can build roads faster that last longer and cost less over their lives, while being easier to repair and requiring less maintenance and service. We can identify vehicle counts, positions, weights, speeds, and trajectories in real time, greatly improving our urban and interstate traffic management. Because we can “see” each vehicle, we can “see” collisions or when cars leave the road, enabling immediate alerts to emergency services faster than anyone could call 911 — and even if nobody sees it happen!
Data is the New Oil
This enables us to give away new roads and fiber networks without new sources of public funding, providing Smart City upgrades everywhere we improve roads, delivering municipal fiber networks and public-safety Wi-Fi, rural broadband, Internet-of-Things connections for fixed sensors and devices, and super high-speed 5G for cell carriers, at a significantly lower cost together than any of them by themselves, like buying an app instead of a device.
Instead of cities and states paying for the improvements, we finance them using a US Department of Treasury recommended model called a “Public Private Partnership”. This is the same model the Trump Administration prefers for fixing our infrastructure, but with our tweak it doesn’t require any tolls, period, of any kind, or any charges just to drive.
We generate revenue to repay the financing from fees charged only for the new services. You’ll never have to pay to “just drive”, in the same way you don’t have to pay to use Facebook, browse Amazon, or walk into a store, and your car doesn’t have to be new or compatible to use these roads.
We monetize non-individually-identifiable metadata through a broad partnership network — real estate developers, insurance providers, brick-and-mortar and online retailers, trucking and logistics providers, transportation companies, navigation companies — anyone who can improve their services, operations, or investments by knowing more about the roads their businesses depend on. This is the same way Google and Facebook generate revenue online.
Connectivity is the New Oxygen
We lease antenna and sensor attachment points to cell, IoT, and Smart City providers. This is the same business model for a cell tower, but instead of a tower on private property, providers pay for access to the network in the roadway. How else could cell companies afford to build a 5G network that costs 10x as much as 4G, when they can barely keep up with demand for 4G?
And it’s not just cell companies that need better connectivity, it’s vehicles too! Connected cars are coming fast, and autonomous cars are right behind them. How will millions of autonomous cars transmit enormous map files back and forth between themselves and map databases, when our 4G cell connections struggle to load GIFs on reddit?
Data + Connectivity = Autonomy
With Smart Pavement identifying vehicle positions in real-time and talking to compatible vehicles, this hybrid digital-physical network enables connected and autonomous vehicles while simplifying autonomy by removing technology from the vehicle and shifting it into the roadway.
This makes driverless cars less expensive, more reliable, safer, more efficient, and more accessible to the average person, dramatically speeding up the rate of adoption, and freeing up nearly 90 minutes per day that the average person spends driving their car.
Beyond enabling autonomy, with a modular road system, we can provide wireless electric vehicle charging so that your car can charge itself on-the-fly, like massive Qi chargers built inside the road. You won’t have to stop every few hundred miles and plug in when your car is on a smart highway, your electric vehicle will stay fully charged no matter how far you drive.
What Will You Do When Your Car Drives Itself?
When your car is driving, are you going to sit there twiddling your thumbs, or will you make use of your new free time? With 90 minutes daily of travel time freed, people can work more and make another $20 per day income on average, or they can enjoy their time with leisure or entertainment.
This is where the final play comes in, for mobility services and applications, including productivity, entertainment, social, and more advanced needs like content distribution networks, AR/VR gaming or touring, microtransactions, vacation services, air travel replacements, and things that we can’t even imagine because the network they will rely on doesn’t exist yet. Who imagined Youtube and Facebook before broadband?
The Next Generation of Infrastructure
We started this journey before any of these things were in the public consciousness because we had a deep understanding of the state of infrastructure and a keen vision for how technology would evolve society. We were transformative thought-leaders before anyone else could even see the problem, much less the solution.
When we founded Integrated Roadways, nobody knew what an autonomous car was. Nobody had heard of Smart Cities, and nobody was thinking about the economics of 5G. Nobody in tech wanted to mess with the difficult task of fixing public roads, it was only later that the titans of tech wanted to listen.
But as a nation, we’ve turned many corners in the last few years, and our esoteric prophecy now makes sense to a wider audience. People are talking about the need for better roads and data for driverless cars, the struggle of implementing municipal fiber and 5G, and the need to upgrade our cities. We not only saw the problems early, we got to work solving them.
Most major cities and state DOTs now have an innovation officer, and govtech is a burgeoning industry. In December of 2017, an industry publication called “ConstructionDive” named “Smart Highways” the “Technology of the Year” for 2017, when nobody even knew what that meant in 2015. Their independent market analysis showed a nearly 100% CAGR in smart highway tech over the next 5 years, reaching a $32b market cap by 2020, and referencing a few projects that we have worked on as proof. Even VCs are finally realising the opportunity size, with Wired projecting $375m of VC investment into “Construction Tech” in 2017, for a market we are trailblazing!
They’re YOUR Roads and They Should Work for YOU!
America has 8 million miles of paved roads with a replacement value of $16 trillion dollars, representing 506 billion square feet of non-productive real-estate. If roads matched the average commercial real estate rate of $23 per square foot in revenue, American roads could theoretically produce $11.6 trillion dollars annually, increasing the GDP by up to 40%!
If Americans are going to spend nearly $2 trillion on upgrading public infrastructure — the single largest asset that the American public holds — don’t we owe it to ourselves, and our children, and their children, to think ahead? Don’t we have an obligation to the future to consider its needs?
We’re at a turning point in history, and instead of pouring outrageous sums of public money into repeating past mistakes, we have a responsibility to make the best of all the things we’ve learned in the last few generations.
That’s why we’re here, and this is why Integrated Roadways exists — to make roads pay for themselves so that Americans will have the best infrastructure in the world for this generation and many to come.
That’s more than my mission, that’s my commitment to my people and my nation, and I couldn’t be happier to share it with all of you.
I Hope You Will Help Me Deliver a Better Future
Thanks for reading. And in the immortal words of Jeb Bush,
If you want to learn why smart highways are the biggest technology opportunity in the United States today, you can download our business case.
If you want to discuss this privately, you can reach me at [my first name] @ [company website].
I know this is complicated and contains niche industry knowledge. I tried to keep it as light and simple as I could without diving into technical mumbo-jumbo.
I can give references, but to avoid losing readers down a tvtropes style rabbit hole, I haven’t included them here, though I’m happy to share them if you ask.