State studies lanes for driverless vehicles
I-94 may dedicate space to such vehicles thanks to Foxconn’s presence
Spurred by Foxconn Technology Group and its plans for a mega-factory in Racine County, state highway planners are studying the possibility of including special lanes for driverless vehicles on I-94.
Should that come to pass — and at this point it is only something being contemplated — it would put Wisconsin in the vanguard of what many believe will be a key part of transportation in the future.
Driverless cars have been developed and are being tested, but there are no highway lanes dedicated to socalled autonomous vehicles, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Transportation said.
Word of the possible development here emerged Monday from Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, as he spoke at a meeting of the Greater Milwaukee Committee on the challenges the region faces in preparing for Foxconn.
Among those challenges are increased traffic and the problem of getting huge numbers of workers — Foxconn says it will employ as many as 13,000 — to a semi-rural area 8 miles west of downtown Racine and more than 20 miles from downtown Milwaukee.
But with state money earmarked to widen I-94 to eight lanes and plans in place to improve local roads, Sheehy said regional officials “thought we were ahead of the curve” on traffic issues.
Then they briefed Foxconn on the accomplishments.
“And we were all dumbstruck,” Sheehy said, “when they looked at us and said, ‘So where’s the autonomous vehicle lane?’ ”
As a result, he said, state transportation planners were asked to consider the possibility. The Department of Transportation is doing just that, a spokesman said Monday.
“Yes, it is something we are looking
“And we were all dumbstruck when (Foxconn officials) looked at us and said, ‘So where’s the autonomous vehicle lane?’” Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
at,” said Michael Pyritz, spokesman for the department’s southeast region.
Pyritz said the process of evaluating and making final decisions on upgrades to I-94 and other roads near the planned Foxconn complex in Mount Pleasant “is a work in progress,” with many options being weighed.
“It’s on the table,” he said of dedicated lanes for driverless vehicles, “but boy, there’s a lot of stuff on the table.”
One possibility, Sheehy said, would be driverless lanes between the Foxconn plant and Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport as a way to move supplies and products to and from the factory.
He said the fact that Foxconn executives brought up the use of autonomous vehicles indicated the vision the company is bringing to the project.
“We’re thinking about two years down the road; they’re thinking 20 years down the road,” Sheehy said.
Taiwan-based Foxconn is a $135 billion contract manufacturer that employs hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly in China. The firm is best known for producing the iPhone for Apple.
Aided by up to $3 billion in state incentives and potentially another $764 million in local assistance and infrastructure spending, Foxconn has said it will build a $10 billion factory — with floor space equal to more than 130 Walmart Supercenters — for the manufacture of ultra-high-definition liquid crystal display panels.
The company envisions the panels playing an increasingly important role in fields such as crowd security, medicine, advanced manufacturing and for displays in driverless cars.
While such vehicles are still in the testing stages, the idea of dedicating highway lanes for them is being explored elsewhere too.
In the Pacific Northwest, Seattlebased Madrona Venture Group is proposing to develop a lane for driverless cars on I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, over the next five to 15 years.
Seattle is home to Microsoft and Amazon, both of which are building engineering hubs in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, firms such as Tesla Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. are road-testing driverless cars.