Ohio opens 540-acre testing ground for ‘smart’ vehicles

The facility, called SMARTCenter, is the latest addition to the state's investment in autonomous and connected vehicle research.
An intersection at Ohio's SMARTCenter
An intersection at Ohio's SMARTCenter (Transportation Research Center)

Ohio’s Transportation Research Center opened its 540-acre, $45 million testing ground for autonomous vehicles Wednesday — the most recent triumph in Ohio’s strategy to double down on investments in advanced transportation.

TRC touts the facility, called SMARTCenter, as the largest of its kind in North America. It’s expected to pull transportation innovators to central Ohio to develop their driverless cars and “smart” highway technology at the facility’s simulated traffic intersections and freeways.

“Ohio is making the tech infrastructure investments that are putting us in a position to be a leader in automated driving technologies,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said in a press release. “This new facility will attract the innovative people and businesses we need to compete for and bring global automated-driving technology investment to Ohio.”

SMARTCenter has 1.1 million square feet of pavement for testing, an underground power distribution and fiber network, and a 10,000 square foot control building and research space. The facility is connected to the rest of TRC’s testing grounds — which all together make up 4,500 acres.


Of the project’s funding, $25 million came from Ohio State University, and the remaining $20 million came from Ohio’s Department of Transportation and the state initiative JobsOhio.

TRC, established by the state of Ohio in 1972, is an epicenter for U.S. transportation research, and includes proving grounds for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency. It tinkers with vehicles from motorcycles to airplanes in its crash labs, emissions facilities, and test tracks, in collaboration with Ohio State University.

SMARTCenter and TRC form a critical piece of Ohio’s 33 Smart Mobility Corridor initiative, which is based around a stretch of highway that runs 35 miles between TRC and Columbus in central Ohio. The corridor is outfitted with a fiber-optic network and data centers. At least 66 automobile industry companies have clustered around the freeway so far.

The corridor has been one of Ohio’s most prominent smart mobility initiatives — a priority for the state since the term of former Gov. John Kasich, who introduced several smart mobility initiatives and established a state office for connected and autonomous vehicles in 2018.

The state envisions its smart corridor expanding to stretch from New York to Detroit, forming miles of sophisticated, data-collecting freeway with Ohio at its heart.

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