The Longest Driverless Test-Track Opens in Ohio

A new state-funded facility for testing driverless cars and other “smart” vehicles has opened in the latest expansion of Ohio’s Transportation Research Center.
by | July 12, 2019 AT 8:21 AM
The six-lane intersection at the Transportation Research Center's SMARTCenter vehicle-testing facility.
The six-lane intersection at the Transportation Research Center's SMARTCenter vehicle-testing facility. (TNS/Transportation Research Center)

By Andrew J. Tobias

A new state-funded facility for testing driverless cars and other “smart” vehicles has opened in the latest expansion of Ohio’s Transportation Research Center.

The new Smart Mobility Advanced Research Test, or SMART, Center, in Logan County about 40 miles northwest of Columbus, includes a six-lane, high-speed “smart” intersection, complete with a traffic light, that companies and researchers can use to test new vehicle technology.

The new center cost $45 million, of which $25 million came from Ohio State University, with the rest coming from the state, through JobsOhio and the Ohio Department of Transportation. Former Gov. John Kasich announced the new facility two years ago, and officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, complete with a demonstration of a foam-plated car outfitted with an automatic braking feature that allowed it to avoid crashing with another car.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told reporters the center is a key component of Central Ohio’s efforts to attract new manufacturing companies and build a high-tech economy. But he said the advances developed there can benefit areas like Cleveland by supporting suppliers as far as 200 miles away.

“This is a world-class facility. and it’s a tremendous asset, and what happens here literally will save people’s lives,” said Husted, who is overseeing various state initiatives meant to tout and foster technological innovation. “It will affect everybody in the world because the driving technologies that will be on the showroom floor in the form of an automobile are going to be tested right here.”

Kristi Tanner, senior managing director for JobsOhio, the state’s economic development nonprofit, said the facility is her organization’s “best hook” when they try to attract companies interested in driverless cars and smart vehicles.

“This is the hook that brings them here, and gets them interested in seeing what we’re doing,” she said.

The TRC was opened in 1974, and is the brainchild of former Gov. Jim Rhodes. It helped attract the Honda manufacturing plant in Marysville, which is just down the road and today employs more than 4,000 workers. The state bought the thousands of acres of farmland upon which the facility was built and later turned it over to OSU, which now runs it through a private affiliate.

The new SMART facility measures 540 acres, two-thirds the size of Central Park. The north-south leg of the six-lane intersection measures 1.2 miles, which officials tout as the longest in the industry.

(c)2019 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland