Patterson wants Oakland Co. at center of auto future

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Officials want Oakland County to be the starting point for a country-wide system of traffic signals, infrastructure and software that can communicate with vehicles.

Oakland County wants a system that would transmit messages to vehicles.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and the Road Commission for Oakland County want proposals from potential service providers that could create the software and hardware for a system that would transmit “instantaneous electronic messages to vehicles, warning motorists of potentially dangerous driving situations.”

It’s a move that could keep the future of automobiles and transportation centered in Michigan. The state is competing with Arizona, California and other states to remain the lead in mobility, which now encompasses everything from self-driving cars to bike-share systems.

The project would join a number of similar initiatives in Michigan. This summer, General Motors Co. announced it was testing a safety feature in Macomb County to warn drivers that traffic signals are about to turn red.

And in what is believed to be a first “connected” construction zone in the nation, test cars on a section of Interstate 75 in Oakland County were able to read high-tech roadside bar codes which communicate what lanes are closed up ahead. Even the reflective strips on workers’ safety vests contained information that identifies them as people instead of traffic barrels.

The state has established at least 100 miles of “connected” highway corridors with roadway sensors for testing in Metro Detroit, with plans to grow to some 350 miles.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson

In addition, the Mcity autonomous vehicle test site is in Ann Arbor and the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti opens in December.

“Just over three years ago, I charged a group of industry experts to find a way for Oakland County to lead the world in connected mobility and the solution sought in the request for proposal does exactly that,” Patterson said. “This is a game-changer that potentially makes our roads safer for everyone.”

Patterson’s request calls for the development of a system that can be easily applied throughout the U.S. He and Matthew Gibb, deputy county executive, do not plan to ask taxpayers to fund the system.

“With nearly 75 percent of the automobile industry having research and development operations in Oakland County, this initiative is vital not only for health and public safety but the automotive industry sustainability as we move forward in the next generation,” Gibb said in a statement. “We must have a business plan that gives the multitude of great companies doing this important work in Oakland County a place to flourish.”

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau