"We will prove to the world that we can create an operating environment for advanced vehicles that is safer and more efficient than just a normal roadway," Duvall said of the work that's planned for the coming months now that the stretch of highway has been identified. "So next year is a big year. This year is what I call the detailed planning work."
While other roads in Michigan are being explored to get similar treatment, an interstate offers "a cleaner, less complicated test bed to start with," and the hardware and software can then be fine-tuned for other roads in the future, according to Duvall.
Making Michigan a leader in EVs and autonomous vehicles has become a rallying cry for the state's business and political leaders over the last several years. The 2020 announcement that Cavnue had been selected came just after the state's economy, like much of the rest of the country's, had fallen off a cliff at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For their part, MDOT officials say they're taking a three-pronged approach as they seek to navigate the future of driverless vehicles, looking at the issue from operations, business and regulatory perspectives, according to Collin Castle, the intelligent transportation systems program manager with MDOT, who is managing the Cavnue project for the state.
"So kind of the end state is having a fully baked technology and infrastructure solution that facilitates the safe use of (autonomous vehicles), trying to kind of get them to a more safe operating domain," Castle said of the work.
As Cavnue and MDOT move forward with the continued work of seeking to designate a lane of busy I-94 for the project, there's also a piece of enabling legislation awaiting passage in Lansing.
Senate Bill 706, sponsored by Frankenmuth Republican Sen. Ken Horn, who chairs the state Senate's Economic and Small Business Development Committee, cleared the upper chamber in January with bipartisan support, but has yet to receive a vote in the state House. In short, the bill would authorize MDOT to "designate a segment of a roadway under its jurisdiction as an automated vehicle roadway."
Cavnue spokesperson Katelyn Davis said the company has had "productive engagement" with Michigan lawmakers, and Cavnue is "optimistic that the legislative process will result in a final bill that benefits all parties involved."