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Columbus pivots smart city funding toward prenatal care

City officials have been granted federal approval to redirect funding and halt a number of projects after research showed potential problems.

Jason Shueh
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Jason Shueh Tech Editor

Jason Shueh is a tech editor at StateScoop with a specialty for civic tech and smart city news. His articles and writing have covered numerous subj...

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After winning $40 million from the Transportation Department’s Smart City Challenge grant last year, Columbus, Ohio, has received approval to divert funds away from bus safety sensors, parking and street lights, and into medical transportation for pregnant mothers.

Columbus officials decided to pivot away from some of its projects after research revealed there were other projects that offered greater value for improving city services, Columbus Business First reported Friday. The adjustment kills a traffic collision prevention project that would have used camera sensors on city buses to detect oncoming pedestrians and vehicles. It also discards a project that would have allowed delivery truck drivers to reserve times for loading and unloading on public streets.

The city said that an investigation into both projects found major feasibility issues. The proposed traffic collision sensors didn’t work at night, when bus collisions are most likely to happen, and the city said that the truck loading app would have been of questionable value since reservations could not be enforced unless the public was prohibited from using the designated curbs and spaces.

Another two projects, smart city lighting and digital parking permits, were consolidated into other city plans, Columbus Business First reported. The city’s public utilities and the Columbus Department of Technology already have a larger smart street light project underway, while digital parking permits for quick vehicle identification were found to be less functional than other solutions on the market.

The city is using the shift in project funding to take a step forward in reducing infant mortality rates by providing new transportation options for prenatal doctor visits. Pregnant mothers on Medicaid will eventually have access to an app that provides round-trip transportation for doctor visits. The city says this will lower the financial barrier to quality medical care and decrease health risks for mothers and infants.

With the changes, the total number of projects drops from 15 to 12. The rest of the projects — which include solutions for connected vehicles, multimodal trip planning and smart mobility hubs — are all still on track. The city is also still entitled to an additional $10 million grant it received from Vulcan Inc. to research strategies for fossil fuel reduction, and more than $500 million in private sector and non-profit grants for smart city efforts that followed the federal award.

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