A new federal grant will allow the Wyoming Department of Transportation to continue work on innovative connected vehicle technology soon to be tested on Wyoming's seasonally-treacherous Interstate 80 corridor.

The goal is to make I-80 safer for the public and reduce the number of crashes, particularly those caused by winter weather.

The current development and deployment phase of the program is funded by roughly $4.4 million in federal dollars, with all three phases projected to cost a combined $5.7 million.

The dangers of I-80 are no secret to those of us who use travel it often. This major shipping corridor can make for a harrowing trip, with its highest point at 8,640 feet and regular doses of Wyoming weather through at least half the year.

In the last year alone, I-80 has seen over 1,400 crashes including 13 deaths and over 250 injury-related crashes. But this connected vehicle technology aims to trim those statistics.

"WYDOT's connected vehicle project presents a unique opportunity," says WYDOT Chief Engineer Gregg Fredrick.

Essentially, the technology allows commercial trucks and WYDOT vehicles to communicate with each other and with roadside infrastructure, thereby giving drivers 360-degree awareness of hazards and situations -- some of which would otherwise be impossible to see.

The system will provide messages to truck drivers in the cab, giving them more reaction time and more options. Roadside infrastructure can alert drivers of upcoming hazardous road conditions, crashes, construction zone information or other important updates. This will also give managers of commercial fleets more accurate information to share with their drivers.

An equipped vehicle can also call for help if stranded.

"Our project team, along with the private fleet partners and a multidisciplinary research team will collaborate on developing leading edge safety and mobility applications and prove the concept through real world testing along the I-80 corridor," Fredrick says. "This work will lay the foundation for much larger and exciting opportunities to enhance the safety and mobility on other rural roadways in Wyoming and throughout the United States."

August saw WYDOT successfully complete the development of the concept and plan for the technology's pilot deployment. The system will be integrated within WYDOT's Transportation management Center, and the department anticipates equipping 400 vehicles as well as nearly 75 roadside units. Private fleet partners will also equip their trucks with the new technology.

Industry leaders and safety advocates such as the Wyoming Trucking Association and the Governor's Transportation Safety Coalition are already on board with the pilot deployment. Several private fleets which wish to have their own trucks participate in the pilot are also showing support, according to a WYDOT news release, with more partners expected to join.

The supporting multidisciplinary team includes ICF International, National Center for Atmospheric Research, McFarland Management, Trihydro, the University of Wyoming and Vital Assurance. Vendors will provide WYDOT with the necessary hardware and software.

Ultimately, WYDOT hopes continued work with federal partners will produce a scalable and replicable pilot that can be used as a model for rural states to take advantage of vehicle and infrastructure connectivity.