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The “Columbus Way” proves to be the winning formula for a Smart Cities Grant.

Steve Lyons, Executive Vice President, Columbus Partnership

Transportation has been integral to our state’s history.  From early innovations in highways, rail service, Great Lakes transportation, and the dawn of aviation and the automobile, Ohio has played a leading role.  The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Smart City Challenge gave Ohio once again the chance to be at the forefront of the next generation of transportation innovation.  Through the Smart City Challenge, USDOT announced that it would award $40 million to one city that could demonstrate how advanced data, intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies, and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, use energy more efficiently, balance environmental needs, both connect and create opportunities for underserved communities, and support economic vitality.  In addition to the USDOT’s pledge, another $10 million was offered by Vulcan Inc., a company which was founded by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen.  The contest was launched to help a city transition over to a “smart” transportation system that uses technology like self-driving cars and connected vehicles.

In January of 2016, local leadership in Columbus representing both the public and the private sectors came together and unanimously declared that winning the Smart Cities Challenge was the community’s number one priority for the coming year.  The effort was led by Mayor Andrew Ginther and joined by the Columbus Partnership – a thought leadership group of 50 CEOs representing the Region’s economic interests – all of whom pledged to be the Mayor’s partner in the effort.  In late March of that year, Mayor Ginther and Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer traveled together to the World Economic Forum in San Diego, where Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx presented. By joining together in the West Coast trip, it was the first opportunity the community had to showcase the strength of the public-private partnerships that exist in Columbus and which lead to how we get things done as a community.  Looking back, it was this ingredient of collaboration that would prove to create the winning formula for Columbus.

From that March meeting, the Partnership initiated its annual trip to Washington, DC.  The 50 CEOs invited Mayor Ginther and other community leaders to join them.  While in DC, the group met with their statewide senate and central Ohio congressional leaders including Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, who personally secured a meeting with Secretary Foxx.  It was an image we would later learn was one that Secretary Foxx could not remove from this mind:  50 CEOs standing together behind their Mayor, all expressing their commitment to support and invest in Smart Cities.  From that conversation with Secretary Foxx and on the plane ride home, the business community decided to enhance their application to the USDOT. Instead of merely matching the USDOT’s and Vulcan’s combined $50 million grant as was the original plan, the Columbus Partnership pledged to nearly double what the government and Paul Allen’s company were devoting to the effort, putting an additional $90 million in private sector investment toward the Smart Cities initiative, bringing the total investment in Columbus to an incredible $140 million if the application succeeded.   The collaboration and the newly-enhanced financial commitment set Columbus apart from the competition.

In June of 2016, the USDOT announced that Columbus was the winner of its Smart Cities Challenge, beating out six other finalists: San Francisco, Austin, Pittsburgh, Denver, Kansas City, Mo., and Portland, Oregon, from an original applicant pool of 78 cities.

As a direct result of the Smart Cities win, Columbus is pushing forward to be the nation’s epicenter for ITS research, development, and implementation.  Investing in ITS will not only create opportunities for economic development and job creation for the Columbus Region, but also provide ladders of opportunity to our residents to better access jobs, food, services, education, and recreation.  Columbus is also the model city to show the nation and the world a practical path to implementing ITS that is environmentally and financially sustainable.

The Smart Columbus Vision seeks to attract over a billion dollars in economic opportunity and to accomplish the following:

  • Access to Jobs – Enhancing the CMAX bus rapid transit corridor and introducing autonomous vehicles. Connecting residents by increasing mobility in challenged neighborhoods.
  • Smart Logistics – Building on our strength as a national logistics hub by optimizing the movement and delivery of freight.
  • Connected Visitors – Providing real-time event, transit, traffic and parking information to visitors and residents.
  • Connected Residents – Implementing a smart payment systems, that enables all residents to have access to be able to pay for all the transportation options in our city with a smartphone or card.
  • Sustainable Transportation – Investments, programs, and incentives for energy and efficiency, transportation electrification, and greenhouse gas reduction that is environmentally and financially sustainable.

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