Pennsylvania state law authorizes the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Penn DOT) to engage in Public-Private Partnerships (P3) Projects. Originally conceived as a way to maintain bridges and turnpike service areas, the P3 approach has moved into fiber optics. The P3 oversight board has approved the build of a fiber optic network along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Currently, an antiquated microwave system provides PENN DOT with communication services along the turnpike for transmission of tolling data and control of traffic management devices. A new fiber system would provide this service to the department for free. The grant also allows additional for-profit capacity in the design of the system.
Turnpike CEO Mark Compton stated in the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal that a new fiber system would be critical for “management devices such as intelligent transportation systems.” This statement has set off speculation that the system could be designed as the backbone of a driverless vehicle infrastructure.
The turnpike has not yet received comment or proposals from private companies. Therefore the commercial case for such a system has not yet been developed. The current timetable calls for vendor qualification submittals by October 2016 with developer selection completed by June 2017. It is possible that sections of the project could be online by 2018.
The turnpike is over 550 miles long and connects metropolitan Philadelphia with Ohio to the west and New Jersey to the North. It represents a large single right-of-way opportunity within a densely populated section of the country with significant commercial activity