Austin Mayor Steve Adler and six other U.S. mayors are vying for a $50 million grant in a challenge that aims to find creative solutions to solve traffic congestion.
Seventy-eight midsized cities applied for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said the department issued the challenge because of how population growth and increased demand on freeways and freight rail leads to more congestion, lower quality of life and constraints on the economy.
“We have a wave of technology and innovation that presents potentially game-changing solutions to at least some of these challenges that may not require the scale of public cost that some of our traditional solutions might entail,” he said.
On March 12 during a South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals event, USDOT announced the seven finalists in the Smart City Challenge: Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco.
The seven cities each receive a $100,000 grant to spend the next few months further developing their proposals for the challenge. The winner will be announced in June and will receive $40 million for USDOT to carry out the proposal and $10 million from Vulcan Inc. for deploying electric vehicles and other strategies aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
From left: U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx; Denver Mayor Michael Hancock; Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Sly James; and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto discuss leveraging innovation and technology to solve traffic at a SXSW Interactive panel March 13.[/caption]
Six of the seven mayors joined Foxx on March 13 during a SXSW Interactive panel to discuss their individual challenges and common ground.
Adler said although Austin is a creative and innovative place, it is home to the most congested stretch of highway in the state and is the most economically segregated city in the country. He said mobility is the top issue the city faces.
“We cannot pave our way out of the problems we have,” he said. “… The reason Austin keeps me up at night is for all the things that are going incredibly well for this city, we stand to lose all of that if we cannot solve this issue.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said his city applied for the challenge because it sees it as the Super Bowl of mobility and aims to create something replicable to share with other cities.
“We see this as an opportunity to take the years of investments and preparation and focusing on mobility issues and really begin to culminate them into a whole coordinated strategy of advancing those investments and technologies and connecting our citizens to this opportunity to be more mobile about the city,” he said.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James said his city has already had remarkable opportunities such as being selected as the first Google Fiber city. He said that opportunity allowed Kansas City to connect housing projects and eliminate the digital divide. James said he hopes to leverage the grant with other things the city is doing.
“What we want to do here is very simple: We want to extend those blessings that we have to a broader part of our city,” he said. “We want to get across our racial divide and take exactly what we’re doing in our downtown and … put it in places where people have been disenfranchised.”