The highways of the future are beginning to become a reality.
The president of Ferrovial, Rafael del Pino, and the local authorities have officially inaugurated this Tuesday in Fairfax (Virginia) the expansion of the I-66 highway, a concession with an investment of some 3,700 million dollars (just over 3,550 million euros, at current exchange rates), making it one of the largest public-private partnership initiatives in the US infrastructure sector in the 21st century.
The motorway incorporates the latest developments in dynamic toll management, monitoring, connectivity and digitization, which prepares it for the era of driverless cars, although that is still a long way to go.
“It is one of the most technologically advanced highways in the world,” said Del Pino.
The 35 kilometers of the renovated infrastructure (between Route 29, near Gainesville, and the Washington beltway, I-495, in Fairfax County) will progressively add the latest technological advances that Ferrovial has developed through its initiative to AIVIA smart roads.
Safety sensors, image detection, antennas, pavement markings and reflective surfaces, high-definition mapping, smart signage, speed management, vehicle-infrastructure connectivity (V2I) and cloud computing allow a highway to be digitized.
Ferrovial has already been testing these systems on the Tarrant Express highway in Dallas and the 407 ETR in the Greater Toronto area together with its allies 3M, Kapsch, Microsoft, Telefónica and CapGemini, but the goal was to apply on I-66 all the technologies already tested to have the first connected highway that shares safety information with vehicles and drivers in real time.
Ferrovial's idea is that infrastructures will play a key role in the era of driverless cars, explains Ricardo Sánchez, director of Technology at Cintra, a Ferrovial subsidiary.
What will drivers notice?
It will depend on the equipment and connectivity of your vehicles.
The expansion of I-66 is a 50-year concession, so progressively there will be cars that are increasingly autonomous and capable of communicating and interacting with other vehicles and with the infrastructure itself.
Today, very few cars will still be able to take advantage of these technological advances, but the motorway will begin to use its systems to detect cases such as cars entering the wrong way, stopping, work zones, the start of traffic jams or the arrival of emergency vehicles.
Initially, the notices will come mostly through the panels, but the idea is to transmit them directly to the cars.
The highway will combine free access lanes (three in each direction) with another two toll lanes in each direction.
These tolls will go by sections and their prices will vary depending on traffic conditions, dynamic management, with Indra systems, which will allow each driver to choose which sections to use one lane or another.
It is an anti-jam toll system that Ferrovial launched for the first time in Texas seven years ago.
The toll is paid with transponders (EZ Pass) that cars must carry inside or through other formulas (online, with a mobile application...), but payment by card or cash is not allowed on the motorway itself.
High occupancy vehicles (three or more occupants) may access the fast lanes at no cost, but must have the EZ Pass Flex model activated in high occupancy mode.
The Express Mobility Partners (EMP) consortium, in which Ferrovial has a 55.7% stake, put the first nine miles (14 kilometers) into service last September and last week began operating the 13 miles (21 kilometers ) remaining.
Following the purchase of its stake from John Laing, the consortium is made up of Cintra (a subsidiary of Ferrovial), Meridiam (29.7%) and APG (14.5%).
The design-build contractor for the project is FAM Construction, a joint venture between Ferrovial Construcción and Allan Myers, VA.
Some 300 people attended the inauguration ceremony, including the Governor of Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin, various federal and local authorities, and numerous Ferrovial executives and employees.
"I-66 is an example of how the joint effort between the administration and private companies can achieve innovative infrastructure that benefits the community," said the president of Ferrovial.
“This is the largest public-private highway initiative carried out in the last century in the North American country,” said Alberto González, CEO of Cintra in the United States.
Ferrovial has invested or committed a total of 996 million euros, including the latest purchase of an additional 5.705% for 162 million, according to its accounts as of last September 30.
In addition, the concession has assumed a debt of 1,772 million euros.
Project figures include $2.3 billion for construction, an initial outlay to the Commonwealth of Virginia to obtain a $579 million grant to fund additional corridor improvement projects, $800 million to expand transit service in the corridor, and $350 million for other I-66 corridor improvement projects over 50 years.
The United States is the great investment bet of the group chaired by Rafael del Pino.
At the end of 2021, Ferrovial had assets in the country for an amount of 12,988 million euros, more than half of the total of 24,896 million assets of the entire group.
Its different construction divisions, concessions and airports have been winning large contracts in the country.