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Next-gen transport infrastructure: Towards a safer, faster, more sustainable future

Electric and autonomous vehicles and new concepts such as eVTOL aircrafts will shape the way we plan, design and build the transport infrastructure of tomorrow. How will infrastructure evolve and how will it benefit society

Steven Matz, Thought Leadership Coordinator
23 February 2022

The road ahead: two points of view

The needs of telematics infrastructure are relatively simple, requiring only cell towers and backhaul. The path for automated vehicles is a little more divisive. Suzanne Murtha is Vice President and the Global Lead for Connected and Automated Technology at AECOM. She explains that automotive manufacturers and infrastructure providers aren’t always aligned on infrastructure requirements for next-gen transport. Individual vehicle manufactures tend to have their own approach to implementing automation and adapting it to the infrastructure. On the other hand, infrastructure providers look for ways to adapt the road environment to enable the automation to function more efficiently and reduce the need for human interventions.

In the US, the Federal Highways Administration’s CARMA Platform is a multimodal approach to supporting research and development in cooperative driving automation. Goals of the platform include enabling automated vehicles to interact and cooperate with infrastructure, for example stopping at traffic lights, and communicating with automated vehicles. With vehicles communicating among themselves and with infrastructure, traffic signs and signals will not be as necessary in the future, resulting in fewer crashes and more efficient mobility. There will be fewer traffic jams as automated and connected vehicles adjust speed accordingly – further reducing vehicular carbon footprints.

Electrification requirements

Elisabeth Bernitt is Senior Vice President and Managing Principal for AECOM’s Georgia and Florida offices. As she explains, we are at the very beginning of understanding the electrical infrastructure requirement necessary to support all the new electric modes of transport. She says: “the widespread introduction of electric vehicles, electric vertical take-off and landing (eVOTL) aircraft and other forms of multimodal transportation will produce some eye-opening studies about the true extent of the power requirement.”

A key challenge will be to make next-gen transport affordable, not just to the privileged few but to everyone who needs it.

eVTOLs: small footprint, little disruption

Currently eVTOLs are at the incubation stage. With over 200 players crowding into this emerging market, some consolidation is to be expected. This will bring about some much-needed commonality – think standardised petrol pumps for all different brands of car, says Joseph Robert Alesia, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at Ferrovial Airports. eVTOLs represent a great opportunity for the aviation industry to redefine its sustainability credentials, adds Elisabeth Bernitt.  A key challenge will be to make next-gen transport affordable, not just to the privileged few but to everyone who needs it.

The ability to take-off and land like helicopters is one of the main advantages of eVOTL crafts. Not only are they electric, but their small footprint reduces the need for disruptive infrastructure construction works. For hyperloops, while the technology has been proven to work, building them comes at a similar environmental cost to the creation of new railroads. It involves acquisitions, permissions, and tunnelling, which negatively impacting both the landscape and lives, comments Joseph Robert Alesia.

Multimodal and “co-opetitive” approaches

According to Elisabeth Bernitt, multimodal is already here, but will see the addition of new technologies, such as eVOTL.  Multimodal will evolve into hubs in urban areas and suburban areas. AECOM recently undertook a study for a US tolling agency looking to transform some of their main toll booths into multimodal facilities. They were looking at potentially accommodating eVOTLs and providing park and ride facilities for commuters. An area where some friction exists is between regional train operators and eVOTL. If multimodal is to move further forward, the competitive nature needs to be replaced with an approach that is more “co-opetitive” (competitive co-operation), she says.

For airports, integration comes down to space and cost. Most cities don’t have open spaces where new airports can be built from scratch, so it’s about making the best use of the existing urban footprint.  Many airports have good rail connections; eVOTLs can be used to connect those that do not, says Joseph Robert Alesia.  eVOTLs remove the need to add drastically to existing footprints and require little in the way of new infrastructure beyond the accommodation of vertiports and electric charging.

Paying for next-gen infrastructure

Gasoline taxes contribute significantly to US highway infrastructure funding. With gasoline vehicles becoming more fuel efficient and electric vehicles more common, that funding inflow has reduced, says Suzanne Murtha. “The funding gap has been partially bridged by toll systems, but in many parts of the world, transportation systems desperately need a funding overhaul. We may see a move towards more road use charging systems and in the next 20 to 30 years. We could also be making payments directly from our vehicles to the infrastructure.” Public-private partnership models, in which the private sector develops the infrastructure in return for a concession before returning ownership to governments, are also a viable financing model for new infrastructure.

Next-gen transport infrastructure – Towards a safer, faster, more sustainable future

Electric and autonomous vehicles and new concepts such as the hyperloop and eVTOL aircraft will shape the way we plan, design and build the transport infrastructure of tomorrow. From vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to roads capable of charging electric cars, to urban air mobility, how will infrastructure evolve to provide safer, faster, more sustainable transport in the coming decades?