Laura Chace: ITSA is leading the mindset shift to invest in digital infrastructure

One hundred years ago this year, radio communication between cars, the ancestor of V2X, was patented for the first time. To mark the occasion, we asked industry experts about recent milestones and what they expect from the future of V2X. In this episode, Laura Demeo Chace, President and CEO of ITS America answers our questions.

Published May 23, 2023

What are the most important goals of ITS America, and where does vehicle-to-everything or V2X fit in?

ITS America is the only national association that focuses on the integration of technology into our transportation system to support a safer, greener and smarter future for all. Our role is to be the leading national voice on transportation technologies to integrate them into our everyday life. As we have seen with mobile phones, real-time information to enable transportation is everywhere and the public is adaptable to accepting these innovations.  Vehicles are increasingly equipped with more and more technology and connectivity. We are guiding and leading this transition to ensure that technology is being integrated in a way that supports communities and our safety goals.

That’s where V2X comes in, very prominently. It is perhaps the number one tool we have to achieve our Vision Zero safety goals. V2X can also advance our climate goals, sustainable mobility, equity and access in our systems. We believe that technologies like V2X – while always putting safety first – help advance all of those goals. Even something as simple as the original Transit Signal Priority has a real equity component to make transportation more accessible and work better for people.

ITS America has a long history…

…going back some 30 years when we were founded. Originally, we were called IVHS, Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems, because ITS technology was focused on highways and vehicles. Now ITS America as an organization and the solutions out there cover every mode of transportation. More and more technological tools are being developed that can help solve the problems and challenges we face in transportation. Fatalities are increasing – up to 43,000 per year, which doesn’t include all of the nonfatal crashes that result in serious injury. We know that 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, and ITS technologies help manage demand and optimize the system. Electrification alone is not going to be enough to offset all the energy used in transportation and resulting emissions. A lot of ITS technologies are now being used in the transit space and others, for on-demand mobility and seamless payments, to make transit more reliable, accessible, and attractive to customers. These are the things I think about when I talk about the digital transformation of transportation.

What was the biggest change in technologies that moved forward these efforts?

I think it is the real-time data coming from sensors, connected vehicles, mobile phones and other inputs. Transportation agencies don’t have to rely on a few years old historical crash reports to figure out where the most dangerous intersections are, they can actually see them using real-time data and determine fixes. Some of those fixes are going to be things like deploying V2X or other technologies, and some of those fixes are going to be a physical improvement in a particular area. I think that the consumer expectation of having reliable and real-time information in the palm of their hands, whether it’s a map application or transit information, has really pushed a change forward in the industry.

On the V2X front, with the FCC approval of the joint waiver, you can see that all the players in the industry are aligned around C-V2X and the remaining 30MHz of dedicated spectrum. We have a use or lose situation. We’re seeing a maturity in the alignment in the industry, and also a maturity of the technology, where everyone has gone through the testing and piloting phase and is ready for actual deployments, and they need to happen, today.  At the same time, a massive increase in road fatalities in the country has made it very clear: doing the same thing over and over is a recipe for continued tragedy. There are a host of reasons to work together to scale up V2X deployments to reduce fatalities and crashes for all road users.


What has been the organization’s greatest achievement in recent years? 

ITS America is leading the mindset shift in the industry to push the need to invest in digital infrastructure. The last 50 years have been about focusing on investments in physical infrastructure: resurfacing roads, widening roads, upgrading bridges. While it’s absolutely critical to invest in physical infrastructure, we also need to invest significantly in the digital layer: in sensors, in software code, in computing, in data sharing networks, because if we don’t have this solid layer of digital infrastructure, we cannot adapt our transport systems for the future. We are quickly maxing out road space, when we can’t create more lanes, we must use space more efficiently. The digital layer does that.

It makes our physical assets more nimble, that allows you to optimize them, to make them dynamic. We’ve successfully led this conversation and gotten the industry and the federal government on board to recognize that yes, this is a priority, and we need to invest seriously and sustainably in the digital layer.

What are your expectations for the coming years that would show this dramatic shift in the mindset?

We’ll be working with the federal government on a reference architecture for digital infrastructure, because we need an interoperable system. We don’t want digitalization to happen in silos in different places across the country, we want a national roadmap. Ultimately, I hope the federal government seriously considers the work we release as a starting point for a national roadmap, so that everyone understands how and where to invest, so that these investments do not become obsolete. These are investments for the future.

We’re going to produce a draft strategy and document this summer.  It will take time to reach a full consensus on the document, but I’d really love to see this happen in the next year. Timing is critical as the money from the infrastructure bill is available now and it’s important that we are able to capture those investments. We want to make sure that agencies feel confident making those investments in the digital layer.

Coming back to V2X, there are a number of grants where V2X is an eligible activity and of course we support and promote this, but we would love to see proposals including V2X or interoperable connectivity prioritized in grants. We would like to see this happen not only with smaller technology grants, but also with larger grants like RAISE, which allows for larger scale deployment.

What should people interested in V2X look for?

ITS America just released a national V2X deployment plan covering both the infrastructure and automotive side to inform the development of USDOT’s plan on national interoperable connectivity. Through our committees and working groups, companies and organizations can provide their input, and they can help us promote this plan to US DOT and others. We will also have opportunities over the next year to get involved and help contribute to the national dialogue.

Do you have specific plans about the FCC C-V2X waiver decision?

Our V2X committee will continue to engage on this. The joint waiver has been approved, but it’s important to know that there are other individual waivers still being held back, and we’re working very hard to get those approved by the FCC. There is no reason to hold those back. We want to make sure that all of the waivers that have been filed are approved so that these entities can move forward with deployments across multiple states and jurisdictions.

What will make these rules final?

The FCC has a regulatory process that they have to go through. It’s called the second report and order, which is the ultimate vehicle for the FCC to publish final rules for the spectrum. We are working with our members and through our regulatory channels to provide input into the FCC process so that we can continue to advocate for final rules that support our members’ positions. But it’s all part of the FCC’s rulemaking process.

Is it possible that they want to see deployments all over the United States to be convinced?

The FCC regulatory process is their own process, so I can’t comment on how quickly it will go or not. We are pushing for quick deployments to show that the industry is hungry and moving everything to get this technology to scale.