The exciting world of the future is going to be built on the boring roads of today.
Details of a potential infrastructure bill are scant, but the Trump administration's budget has earmarked $200 billion over 10 years for direct federal spending on infrastructure. The aim is to combine with private dollars to spend $1 trillion on a multitude of projects, including incentivizing road construction and programs aimed at easing urban congestion.
"Politically, the main push for that spending is for fixing your existing roads and bridges," said Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes. "That's what politicians are going to be pushed to do."
Even with all the excitement surrounding self-driving cars, the problem puzzling policymakers is figuring out how to bankroll the next generation of roadway infrastructure while also fixing today's roads.
"If people want to put driverless cars in circulation, they have to put them on today's roads, not tomorrow's roads," said Dave Raymond, president of the American Council of Engineering Companies. "The extent to which technology will solve the problems of having insufficient current infrastructure is problematic."
Some of the changes needed for self-driving cars can be incorporated into current improvement plans, such as repainting lane stripes, improving signs, widening highways, and adding curb space for autonomous drop-off zones.
But longer term, cities and states might have to get creative with financing, such as instituting taxes on services such as cybersecurity, shifting budgets to anticipate less spending on accidents and more on infrastructure, and implementing congestion pricing to encourage car sharing.
Federal recommendations say local governments should evaluate financial plans more frequently as the introduction of autonomous vehicles onto roads becomes more clear, but mistakes will be made.
"I think there's billions of dollars invested that don't pay off," said Brandes. "There's going to be massive investments made in the wrong thing."