A conceptual rendering of the completed Innovate Mound project.Macomb County Department of Roads

Innovate Mound plans to transform Mound Road into a cutting-edge mobility corridor

For officials in Macomb County, Sterling Heights, and Warren, nothing is off the table when it comes to incorporating cutting-edge mobility technology into a planned overhaul of Mound Road.

“We’re entertaining all ideas right now,” says Bryan Santo, director of the Macomb County Department of Roads.

The county is a key partner in Innovate Mound, a planned $217 million project that aims to transform the nine-mile stretch of Mound Road between I-696 and M-59 into a 21st-century multimodal corridor offering improved experiences for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.

“We wanted to have a future-forward corridor that can be looked at not only within the state, but within the nationwide spectrum,” Santo says.

Over the past two years, the project’s initial phase was focused on procuring project funds, most crucially a $97.8 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Now, the project’s second phase is focusing on preliminary engineering, which includes planning out more of the specific innovations the revamped corridor will include.

The new Mound Road will be repaved and will include new landscaping, lighting, and unified signage. But it will also include a variety of connected vehicle infrastructure that will lay the groundwork for the fully autonomous vehicles of the future. The Innovate Mound team has engaged an Innovation Council, including prominent representatives from the transportation, trucking, and automotive industries, to examine which technologies are most important and most feasible for the project to incorporate.

One notable example will be the usage of roadside units (RSUs), which will be placed along the corridor to communicate with connected vehicles on Mound Road. RSUs are already a major part of Macomb County’s robust connected vehicle infrastructure, but along Mound Road they may be used to detect certain types of vehicles and ease their passage through the corridor. That would involve a tiered system whereby emergency vehicles would receive first priority, with RSUs detecting them and then communicating with traffic lights to give those vehicles longer green lights.

Trucks and other delivery vehicles might be granted a second-tier priority within the system. That could mean a lot to the corridor’s 71 major employers and over 47,000 employees, many of whom rely on just-in-time deliveries.

“That would be a huge economic driver for future industry to look at that and take comfort in the fact that we do have a smart corridor that would help with the efficiency of freight travel,” Santo says.

The Innovation Council and other Innovate Mound team members are also working hard to make Mound Road hospitable to the technology of the long-term future. The team is currently investigating platforms that would allow its RSUs to communicate with vehicles using both DSRC and CV2X (cellular V2X) communications technology. The two standards are both commonly used for vehicle communications now, and it remains unclear which one will become a universal standard over time.

But the Innovate Mound team is preparing for either case.

“The overall goal of the project is to access the technologies that are there right now, that are low-hanging, but planning flexibly enough and far enough ahead that when we get to fully autonomous vehicles, that corridor can be converted over at minimal cost,” says Macomb County Department of Roads planning director John Crumm.

Innovate Mound is set to wrap up phase 2 in late 2020 or early 2021, with construction tentatively set to begin in summer 2021. Beyond the next-generation technology that will line the revamped Mound Road, Santo says the finished product will also just be a smoother road for all drivers to travel on.

“We’ve made some repairs over the past few years that were needed and necessary, but it’s pavement that has outlived its lifespan,” he says. “The end product will surely feel different from the normal Macomb County roadway.”