COLUMBUS — Ohio got an infusion of federal money this week for testing self-driving vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $7.5 million grant to the Ohio Department of Transportation and a group of other organizations, including the Transportation Research Center, to develop a statewide demonstration plan to test self-driving vehicles on rural roads. With partners contributing $10.3 million in matching funds, the total investment for Ohio is $17.8 million.

“We’ve been pushing hard for this grant,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a conference call with reporters. “This is something we’re experts in in Ohio, and now we’ll be at the center of developing it.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a release: “These funds will help keep Ohio at the forefront of research and innovation. Developing and integrating emerging transportation technologies now will allow us to invest in our infrastructure for generations to come.”

Brett Roubinek, president of the Transportation Research Center, welcomed the money, saying testing will begin within a few months and extend over four years.

The grant will “help policymakers by providing data on automated driving systems to put in place regulations” and generate “the information they need to keep everyone safe with this new technology,” he said.

The grant is targeted at examining self-driving vehicles on rural roads because most prior research has involved urban roads, Roubinek said. The testing of vehicles on rural roads, with a human driver on board to take over in case of problems, will begin in the second year, he said.

ODOT director Jack Marchbanks said in a statement: “This is a huge win for the state of Ohio. By focusing on 32 counties in Ohio’s rural Appalachian region, studies supported by this grant will be the most comprehensive effort yet to be conducted on our nation’s rural roads.”

 

Dispatch reporters Marty Schladen and Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.