By JD Malone

By the end of the year, the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty will open the first portion of what will be world's biggest autonomous vehicle testing facility.

TRC, Ohio State University and the state of Ohio broke ground on the $45 million, 540-acre Smart Center on Monday, the first portion of which, a high-speed intersection, should be functional by the end of the year.

Governor John Kasich hailed the new project as the global epicenter for testing autonomous vehicle technology.

"I said seven years ago that Ohio needs to be cool," Kasich said. "This is one aspect of the things we are doing to get Ohio on the map."

The Smart Center will be inside the 4,500-acre TRC and run by the center. It will consist of roadways and structures meant to mimic high-speed intersections, rural roads, urban areas and neighborhoods. The idea is to give researchers and vehicle developers access to as many variables as a real autonomous car would face out in the world.

TRC's chief executive, Brett Roubinek, said the facility has been researching an autonomous vehicle center for more than five years, and can now put the infrastructure in place to make it happen.

"Every day, the technology is advancing at the speed of light," Roubinek said. "We'll be able to adapt to the technology as it rolls out."

(c)2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)