Smart Corridors: A New Framework to Accelerate and Scale Connected Roadside Infrastructure Deployments

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By Dominique Bonte | 3Q 2022 | IN-6637

Smart corridors constitute a new transportation framework that will both accelerate the scaled deployment of roadside infrastructure and bring new 5G-enabled use cases, such as cooperative mobility and driverless transportation, allowing a step change in safety, traffic flow, and sustainability. New government funding programs, such as the European Union’s (EU) Connecting Europe Facility (CEF2) 5G cross-border highway initiative, will generate strong momentum across the transportation ecosystem in the next 5 to 10 years.

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What Are Smart Corridors?


While the term “smart corridor” slowly gains momentum as a new concept within the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) market, its definition remains rather vague, ranging from the very narrow view of Cooperative Adaptive Traffic Lights (CATL) enabling urban green signal wave corridors as offered by SWARCO to 5G cross-border highway corridors enabling seamless autonomous driving. The concept certainly seems to be aimed by governments at moving the needle in terms of achieving a step change in making road- and rail-based mobility and transportation safer, more efficient in terms of traffic flow and road capacity, and more sustainable (vehicle electrification and charging infrastructure) on a much larger scale than ever seen before. Smart corridors are also increasingly recognized as key drivers for economic growth.

Smart corridors bring along new use cases and applications; for example, the new principle of premium signal priority, also known as commercial vehicle preemption, for freight and delivery service providers, offers new monetization opportunities for governments and road operators alike. In some cases, this is taken to the logical next level of dedicated freight corridors, fully optimized for trucks and other commercial vehicles.

Smart corridors, in fact, constitute a powerful framework for more effective prioritization and optimization of roadside infrastructure investments for maximum benefits through corridor selection criteria based on key safety and traffic metrics and advanced modeling of transportation infrastructure involving digital twins and Artificial Intelligence (AI).  This can be seen as a very critical new paradigm driving future growth of next-generation ITS solutions.

Smart Corridor Government Funding and Case Studies


The list below includes the main government funding and legislative initiatives, as well a select number of smart corridor case studies and projects:

  • EU—CEF2 5G Cross-Border Highway Corridors: The EU’s Connecting Europe Facility (CEF2) digital program for deploying 5G corridors (involving a dense network of 5G base stations along highways) is part of a wider push to accelerate investments in 5G infrastructure. In this context, 5G corridors are defined as 5G systems, including 5G edge computing facilities meeting the stringent service requirements of transport safety and digital rail operations, particularly in terms of ultra-high reliability, security, low latency, and high throughput for advanced transport & logistics applications. The main objective and goal is to support an early wave of 5G deployments along transport paths and start leveraging private investment to establish a full pan-European road and railway network of 5G corridors by the end of the CEF program (2027) with total funding amounting to over €1 billion. The first CEF calls were launched on January 12, 2022 and closed on April 20. The next big wave of CEF2 Digital calls will be published in October 2022 with an expected submission deadline of February 2023. Interestingly, this program is single-mindedly focused on 5G and Mobile-Access Edge Computing (MEC)-driven distributed computing as enablers of cooperative mobility and autonomous driving through low-latency use cases, such as Tele-Operated Driving (TOD), the generation and distribution of High-Definition (HD) maps for autonomous driving, and Anticipated Cooperative Collision Avoidance (ACCA), collectively referred to by the EU as Cooperative, Connected, and Automated Mobility (CCAM).
  • EU—"Eurovignette” or Green Trucking” Tolling Directive: This regulation mandates discounts of at least 50% on distance-based road tolls for haulers operating zero-emissions trucks (battery electric or hydrogen ) by early 2023.
  • United States—Infrastructure Bill (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)): Includes funding to the tune of US$11 billion for transportation safety and US$66 billion for rail. Additionally, more than US$27 billion in federal funding has been earmarked for state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to meet their Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission targets.
  • United States—Tennessee Department of Transportation’s (TDOT) I-24 SMART Corridor: US$110 million project aimed at integrating a 28-mile section of the I-24 freeway, arterial roadway elements, and 30 miles of connector routes via ITS for monitoring and controlling traffic, lane control gantries, and Dynamic Message Signs (DMSs) to reroute traffic and notify drivers about crashes along the roadway (automated traffic management).
  • United States—Chattanooga-Hamilton County/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization’s (TPO) 2050 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) Smart Corridor Network: This project consists of a network of three smart corridor types, including smart freight corridors (for the safe and efficient movement of trucks and rail cargo), smart vehicular corridors, and smart livability corridors for transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
  • China—Zhejiang’s Intelligent Super Expressway: This new construction project of a 161-km long 6-lane highway will connect the cities of Hangzhou, Shaoxing, and Ningbo. The main objectives include reduced travel time though higher average speeds up to 150 Kilometers per Hour (kmph) and free flow tolling, economic development, and sustainable mobility (Electric Vehicle (EV) charging poles, solar-power electricity generation, and charge-as-you-drive battery-charging technology).
  • EU—Smart Rail Corridors Based on the Future Rail Mobile Communication System (FRMCS): The 5G FRMCS standard forms the cornerstone of the EU’s smart rail upgrade program (GSM-R substitution). Dedicated spectrum has been reserved for private 5G deployments along railway infrastructure. FRMCS will enable critical use cases, such as Automatic Train Operation (ATO), Automatic Train Protection (ATP), and connected and safe railroad crossings with public 5G networks providing passenger information services and on-board Wi-Fi based on advanced tower and network sharing technologies.

The Wider Relevance of Smart Corridors for Roadside Infrastructure Deployments


The real relevance and significance of smart corridors can be summarized by how they enable two key shifts in roadside infrastructure approaches:

  • Technology and Ecosystem Paradigm Shift: Legacy ITS technologies based on non-connected traffic signal control, traffic management, tolling, and signage will be absorbed into and potentially even replaced by a wider technology spectrum dominated by vehicle connectivity and the cloud. The role of 5G, MEC, and cloud technologies specifically offer the opportunity to enable the new use cases of cooperative mobility and driverless vehicles. This will ultimately redefine the very nature of transportation technology in terms of vehicle tech, telco networks, and cloud platforms substituting fixed roadside infrastructure.  It will also fundamentally change the very fabric of the transportation ecosystem with both telcos (carriers and network infrastructure providers) and hyperscalers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft expected to take a keen interest in the new business opportunities offered by both 5G and cloud deployments along road and rail infrastructure. However, providers of legacy ITS technologies for traffic management and tolling, such as Kapsch and SWARCO, will remain important during the long transition period toward fully automated traffic management and transportation.
  • Business Paradigm Shift: Smart corridors provide a more holistic, efficient, and scalable approach to deploying ITS solutions and connected roadside infrastructure compared with previously highly-fragmented legacy practices, centered around intersections and point solutions. Corridors inherently hold the promise of breaking through the longstanding barriers of fragmentation and failing business models. This is further accelerated by very substantial government funding programs no longer just focused on safety, but increasingly also on sustainability and economic development.


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