The nearly 11-month-old organization is currently involved in six projects.

In his position as executive director of DriveOhio, Jim Barna is a bit of a mobility matchmaker. As he sees it, much of his role is making connections among government, business and education leaders to shape a safe, reliable transportation system designed for the future.

Gov. John Kasich in January launched DriveOhio as a hub for smart mobility development, testing and deployment. So far, Barna is pleased. “This has probably exceeded my expectations in serving that role, making those matches,” he says. “The idea is we're not a big pot of money, but we're coming in and facilitating conversations between interested parties.”

Barna believes DriveOhio is unique in its multi-faceted approach. “Everybody has ‘smart' initiatives, but nothing like this.”

DriveOhio has four pillars: safety, mobility, reliability and workforce. It currently involves six projects, which are in various stages of development and execution:

U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor: The Ohio Department of Transportation is equipping a 35-mile stretch of highway between Dublin and East Liberty with fiber-optic cable and wireless roadside sensors to allow open-road testing of autonomous and connected vehicles. I-90 Lake Effect Corridor: With part of the highway running through the “snow belt,” ODOT is equipping a 60-mile stretch with short-range digital communications and will test wireless technologies to better manage the roadway and reduce crashes. I-670 Smart Lane: Slated to go live next fall, the state's first “smart lane” will turn the eastbound shoulder between Downtown Columbus and John Columbus Glenn International Airport into a travel lane during peak congestion. Ohio Turnpike: Because of excess capacity, the 241-mile turnpike gives researchers the ability to reserve a lane in each direction for testing autonomous and connected vehicles while keeping the other lanes open. Connected Marysville: Marysville is installing short-range communication units in its traffic signals, which will communicate with public and private vehicles equipped with onboard units. The pilot is designed to test and fine-tune how connected vehicles interact to improve safety and congestion and reduce emissions. Smart Columbus: The city of Columbus, named the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation's first Smart City Challenge, is creating a first-of-its-kind smart mobility system to address issues such as access to transportation, connectivity and fuel emissions. A key issue is connecting people with public transit systems in a more efficient and convenient way.

Other projects include the I-75 Worklink aimed at connecting workers with logistics enterprises in southwest Ohio.

Barna says Ohio is ideally suited for many cutting-edge transportation projects. Automotive research, manufacturing and technology clusters along Route 33 are important assets, as is the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty. TRC is the largest independent automotive proving ground in North America and home to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Research and Test Center.

The state of Ohio, Ohio State University and JobsOhio have invested $45 million in the first phase of the Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test Center at TRC to test autonomous and connected vehicle technology. TRC President and CEO Brett Roubinek says he sees more companies exploring possibilities, including the insurance industry. “With vehicles now full of sensors, this affects the frequency and severity of crashes,” he says.

More than 300,000 crashes occurred on Ohio roads in 2016, 94 percent of which were caused by driver error. “Advances in this space will save lives for sure,” Roubinek says.

In addition to the roadway initiatives, two unmanned aircraft projects look to play a role in traffic management and safety, and in commercial applications. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport has a ground-based radar system that allows operators to test drones beyond the line of sight. The only other locations with similar capacity are in New Mexico and California.

Even though a new governor will take office in January, Barna is confident in DriveOhio's future. “This technology should solve a lot of our transportation issues, and I really think the new administration, whoever it is, will see the benefits.”

Laurie Allen is a freelance writer.