Driverless cars in Tampa? It could be a reality - WFLA News Channel 8

Driverless cars in Tampa? It could be a reality

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The Tampa Bay area likely took one big turn toward the future this week and it could now help pave the way for driverless cars.

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority announced that the Selmon Expressway has met the criteria to become an automated vehicle test bed, joining a small group of other cities around the country.

"Being there at the ground floor is always a good place to be," said Bob Frey, the Planning Director at the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

"To get in on the ground floor ... and just be a player at the table with these people and these companies is we think very exciting and allows us to see where this path is going to go."

The news comes after the Research and Innovative Technology Administration and the United States Department of Transportation announced this week that the Expressway meets its criteria. It's the second Florida city to get the okay after Orlando.

The expressway authority will partner with the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research Automated Vehicle Institute with the hope that Tampa can become one of the nation's leading centers of research for automated vehicle technology.

The next step will be finding a group that wants to test here. Frey says the Selmon's layout could be a selling point.

"The Selmon Expressway offers a pretty unique set-up in that the elevated reversible lanes system is separated from our lower lanes," he said.

"It operates pretty much on a peak-hour type schedule. So there are times during the day it can be used."

He also pointed out the Brandon Parkway and Meridian in Tampa are owned by THEA.

"Therefore you could see how these vehicles are going to interact between a limited-access facility and an arterial and how that transition is going to occur," he said.

Florida is one of only a handful of states across the country, including California, that have passed laws allowing for driverless cars.

Florida became the second state in the nation allowing automated vehicles to operate on its roads when State Representative Jeff  Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, spearheaded legislation in the 2012 Legislative Session.

"I am glad that our local community leaders are taking the bold steps to bring technology solutions to our growing community… with projects like these, Tampa Bay will be at the cutting edge of transportation innovation," he was quoted in the release from the expressway authority.

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