Building Safer Roads: The Infrastructure Act Encourages More Resilient and Reliable ITS

November 16, 2022

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is a monumental commitment by the U.S. government to the future of our transportation system. While the contents of the legislation are diverse, spread throughout its text are commitments to research, fund, and strengthen intelligent transportation systems (ITS). This historic investment represents a recognition of ITS’ incredible potential to ensure safer, more efficient roads that produce fewer emissions and withstand the growing impacts of climate change.  

Through advances in and incorporation of wireless and communications-based technologies, vehicles and infrastructure have become increasingly intertwined, resulting in the creation of ITS. ITS are operational systems of various technologies that, when combined and managed, improve the overall system’s operating capabilities. They have emerged as an essential component of transportation systems by providing data and functionality that can reduce potential crashes, keep traffic moving, and decrease negative environmental impacts.  

ITS’ integral role in American transport is bolstered by its inclusion in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the largest infrastructure bill in American history. Signed into law on Nov. 15, 2021, this bill dedicates $110 billion towards roads, bridges, and other major transportation projects. These projects contain widespread directives referencing ITS, exemplifying how ITS are not one specific technology or initiative, but an overarching consideration spread across a variety of efforts. Incorporating ITS bolsters these programs, grants, and research initiatives’ ability to ensure that their components are cutting edge and prepared for both existing and future technologies.  

However, the advantages of ITS cannot be fully realized when their reliability and resilience go unconsidered. For transportation systems, power outages do more than contribute to traffic congestion – they jeopardize safety for drivers along with pedestrians and cyclists. As driverless vehicles and other smart infrastructure increasingly rely on ITS-sourced data, the importance of being “always-on” is amplified.  

A key source of data for ITS is traffic signals, and according to statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, intersections with functioning traffic signals have 54% fewer fatalities annually than those without. Outages also impact other transportation technologies such as tolling systems, variable message signs, railroad crossings, and tunnel systems. While not always standard, traffic intersections often rely on uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to ensure continued operations. The UPS couples batteries with an AC power inverter to provide an alternate source of AC power when utility power fails. As outages become increasingly common, the UPS is emerging as an essential tool to ensure the resilience and safety of transportation systems. 

Multiple provisions in the IIJA can be allocated towards the installation of UPS systems at traffic intersections. Through these programs, Departments of Transportation and city agencies across the country can apply federal funding toward improved safety and resiliency. For instance, improvements to traffic signal resiliency and safety qualify under the Surface Transportation Block Grant and PROTECT Programs. Additionally, the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation Grant Program specifically notes its application towards the improvement of traffic signal management and function.  

When incorporating the UPS into their traffic systems, municipalities should also take into consideration the UPS’s safety, reliability, and sustainability. For example, traditional UPS batteries use lead-acid chemistry that has a short life, high maintenance, and poor sustainability factors. In contrast, UPS batteries that use nickel-zinc battery technology provide high performance in extreme temperatures and harsh weather. They also require no routine maintenance and come with intelligent management systems, demanding little attention after installation. Nickel-zinc batteries are also more sustainably sourced than alternatives, have a smaller carbon footprint, and are fully recyclable, which can be important for cities who also have sustainability commitments to meet.  

Further, these batteries’ non-volatile nature means no thermal runaway risk, increasing reliability and safety when supporting ITS. One nickel-zinc UPS system demonstrated this reliability when a traffic cabinet at a signalized intersection was shot with 9 bullets, but they were blocked by the battery system, thereby protecting the other equipment inside the cabinet from damage.  

The incredible investment in ITS through the IIJA makes it clear that these technologies will continue to increase their presence in our vehicles and infrastructure. It’s vital that these federal funds support robust safety, reliability, resiliency, and sustainability goals – and the right UPS does just that in building the smart cities of the future.

Author
Steve Jennings
Steve Jennings
Sr. VP Sales & Marketing, ZincFive
Steve leads the ZincFive sales and marketing team and brings senior executive experience in technology companies serving the energy, clean tech, communications, computing and semiconductor industries. Steve and his team are focused on providing superior performing, safer and greener energy storage solutions based on nickel-zinc batteries to mission critical applications in the data center, IT and intelligent transportation markets.
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