National status for Willow Run sought by end of year

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Troy — U.S. Sen. Gary Peters said Monday he’s pushing hard for a competition that would designate a single national test site to prove out autonomous car technologies before the process can be delayed by the transition between presidential administrations.

Peters, speaking at Automation Alley, said he hopes that federal authorities will make an announcement before the end of the year, and that he’s confident Michigan’s proposed American Center for Mobility at the former Willow Run bomber plant would win such a designation.

If Michigan’s 335-acre site in Ypsilanti would win, the designation would pave the way for tens of millions of dollars in federal money, in addition to giving the Great Lakes State another advantage over places such as Silicon Valley, Columbus and Pittsburgh in the race to develop self-driving cars.

“The concern is, there’s just a lag before people are appointed and before they get up to speed, regardless of who gets elected president,” Peters said. “I’m fairly confident we’ll see some continuity, but it will slow down, which is why it’s so critical we get a mobility testing facility designated before the next administration comes in.”

The American Center for Mobility hopes to turn the former Willow Run bomber plant into a 335-acre autonomous car test site that includes urban and rural test scenarios. The state has already pledged about $20 million for the project, although the site still needs about $60 million to achieve its full plans.

The first phase, which will focus on operational facilities and a 2 1/2-mile highway simulation loop, can be completed with the $20 million from the state, officials say, but they need more money to broaden the site to include tunnels, bridges, traffic stops, suburban cul-de-sacs and city streets to test the driverless cars of tomorrow.

The site will complement MCity, a 35-acre test site in Ann Arbor, and Kettering University’s new GM Mobility Research Center.

“It’s so important to win this battle so Michigan can remain the center of the universe for autonomous vehicles,” Peters said.

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