Tampa gets grant for smart connected car technology

The Jetsons did it decades ago. But today, Tampa's taking on technology to make driving in the big city a breeze.

"It's not a 20-year dream. It is now," Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority Executive Director Joe Waggoner said Monday.

The federal government is giving Tampa $2.4 million to develop a connected-vehicle program. Thousands of cars in a test-group will be retro-fitted with state-of-the-art technology.

"We will outfit cars, buses, and roadside equipment with technology so that they can communicate with each other, and with people, for real life adjustments in various traffic conditions," Waggoner said.

The program will use sensors to warn drivers of upcoming dangers and communicate congestion to transportation centers.

"If we have devices, sensors- in effect, in cars, on pedestrian's phones, in traffic lights, in this traffic management center, it holds the potential to get a lot of the benefits of those autonomous vehicles earlier, using the vehicles we drive today," U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Rogoff said.

Tampa is one of four cities to test out the technology. Once fully implemented, transportation officials believe it could cut traffic fatalities by up to 80-percent.

"Everyone has had the experience of changing lanes, and almost hitting that car you didn't see. That won't happen if your car knows that that car is there," Rogoff explained.

A total of $17 million is on the table for Tampa to develop the technology over the next three years. While we're still in the design stage, we're certainly in the driver's seat of a ride that will one day cross the country.

"We're bringing transportation into the 21st century. And oh, by the way, Tampa is at the center of it all," U.S. Senator Bill Nelson smiled.

Tampa was chosen as a test city based in part because of its congestion problem and to test the program's effect on safety. The other cities selected for the pilot program are New York City, Ann Arbor, and a rural portion of Wyoming.