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One of these seven US cities will receive $50 million to rethink urban transport

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An aging population and increased urbanization are set to dramatically change America's transport needs, and the government wants to do something about it. In 2015, the Department of Transportation unveiled its Smart City challenge, a competition for mid-sized cities to their rethink urban transportation using technology like autonomous cars and smart street lights. This weekend at South by Southwest, the department announced the challenge's finalists, one of which will eventually receive a $40 million grant from the government and an additional $10 million in private funding.

Whittled down from 78 submitted proposals, the finalists are:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco, California

As reported by Gizmodo, each of these seven cities will now receive $100,000 to finesse the plans for their city before the winning proposal is announced in June. "For a long time these cities have felt very powerless seeing congestion and travel times going up and haven’t had the resources to aggressively tackle those things," US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told the publication. "We’re saying, if you’ve got a creative idea to answer those challenges, let’s see how we can help."

The US population is expected to grow by 70 million by 2045

The challenge itself was inspired by the Department of Transport's "Beyond Traffic 2045" report, published in February last year. This identified a number of trends that will slowly clog America's infrastructure, including increased freight demand (truck congestion is estimated to cost the economy $27 billion by 2040) and a growing and aging population (America is expected to grow by 70 million people by the year 2045, with seven "mega regions" accounting for 75 percent of the country's population).

The department has identified twelve technologies that it thinks could help offset these problems, with three of these judged as being particularly important: vehicle-to-vehicle communication, autonomous driving technology, and infrastructure that uses embedded sensors to warn of things like imminent traffic jams. Foxx says the department has been "blown away" by the quality of the proposals, but we'll have to wait until June to find out which of the seven finalists will get to move forward with their plans.