$200M in U.S. budget sought for hi-tech proving grounds

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A bipartisan group from the Michigan congressional delegation has asked the Trump administration to budget $200 million for testing and deploying connected and self-driving vehicle technologies at designated “proving grounds,” such as the American Center for Mobility that is being built on the 355-acre Willow Run site in Ypsilanti Township.

The lawmakers wrote Thursday to the federal Department of Transportation, as well as the Office of Budget and Management, requesting that President Donald Trump prioritize development of the technologies in his proposed 2018 budget, which is expected to be unveiled mid-month. The same amount was requested for autonomous vehicle research in the 2017 budget.

The letter was sent by Democratic Sens. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, as well as Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, who stressed the potential for the developing technologies to reduce highway crashes and deaths.

“The auto industry is in the midst of a seismic technological shift that will revolutionize the transportation of people and goods in our lifetime,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Identifying and selecting these initial proving grounds was a crucial first step, but USDOT must now work quickly to ensure that testing and evaluation at these facilities can begin as soon as possible. Technology in this area is changing rapidly, and only through thorough testing can we both encourage innovation and assure public confidence in these revolutionary technologies.”

The Department of Transportation in January designated 10 proving grounds for developing and testing self-driving cars, including the Willow Run operation.

The intent is to form an initial network of proving grounds focused on the advancement of automated vehicle technology and ensuring that technology is sufficiently tested before it deploys on roadways.

“Ensuring that American innovators can safely develop and implement this technology will not only save lives but also solidify our nation’s position as the world leader in the future of mobility,” the lawmakers wrote.

“It is critical that the federal government play a leadership role in ensuring that CAV technologies are safely developed and tested in a thorough and thoughtful manner, aligned with voluntary industry standards.”

The $200 million in funding would be part of the budget of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is expected to validate and conduct testing of self-driving cars at the proving grounds, and then share best practices.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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