Federal grant to help CDOT expand its automated work zone safety truck program

News Release

March 24, 2023 - Denver/Central Colorado - Self-driving trucks protect road workers

Denver - A $1.9 million federal grant will allow the Colorado Department of Transportation to expand the ways it's been using special self-driving trucks to protect workers in construction zones.

“Every major advancement in the history of U.S. transportation has involved technological progress,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “The investments we are making today are about fostering innovations that improve people’s day-to-day lives, making transportation safer, more reliable, more efficient and more sustainable.”

"We are hard at work fixing Colorado's roads thanks to historic state and federal transportation funding, which is why it is as important as ever to make sure the hardworking people fixing our roads are safe on the job. This exciting federal grant supports innovative solutions to improve our roads and keep Coloradans safe," said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

“For the men and women working as highway maintainers and in our work zones, Colorado’s roads are their office,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “Innovations such as automated attenuators can be life-saving, and we appreciate the support of our federal partners in moving them forward with funding from the IIJA.

“We hope that this is one of many opportunities for such collaboration.”

CDOT, like most departments of transportation around the country, has long used "truck-mounted attenuators," structures fitted onto the backs of heavy trucks and designed to take the impact of a vehicle crash. But since 2018, CDOT has been testing automated truck-mounted attenuators, essentially self-driving versions of the crash-absorbing trucks. In fact, CDOT was the first state in the nation to use an automated attenuator.

Using these automated attenuator trucks takes the driver out of the equation, protecting an additional life on top of the construction zone workers who are shielded by the vehicle. CDOT has two such automated safety trucks, one in northeastern Colorado and another in the southern part of the state, and the trucks right now are primarily used to protect workers during lane-striping projects.

The federal Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation, or SMART, grant awards announced this week will fund these automated attenuator programs in Colorado and four other states.

"Colorado has been a leader among states in using automated vehicle technology to protect transportation workers, and the award of this grant will help us explore new ways to increase work zone safety,” said Kay Kelly, chief of innovative mobility for CDOT, adding that the grant means CDOT can use automated crash trucks for jobs beyond lane-striping, including sweeping, crack sealing and patching.

In 2021, Colorado received national attention for its automated attenuators by receiving the Innovation Initiative Award from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, an organization that represents departments of transportation across the U.S.

CDOT also leads the Autonomous Maintenance Technology Pooled Fund, which includes a total of 14 state departments of transportation working together to advance the research and deployment of autonomous maintenance technologies that drastically improve safety to the employees and the public.

When CDOT launched the pooled fund in 2018, Colorado was the only state with an operating automated attenuator. Three years later, five other states had such vehicles in their fleets and were in some phase of testing or deployment.

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