Mayors Jockey for More Than $50M in Seed Money for First Smart City

The Transportation Department hosted its version of The Voice when it brought mayors from several of the nation’s mid-size cities to Washington Thursday to make competing bids for a pot of more than $50 million in infrastructure technology funding. The DOT is in the final stages of determining the winner of the Smart City Challenge, an initiative launched late last year to help the winner create a “first-of-its-kind city that uses data, technology and creativity to shape how people and goods move.”

Connected cars, smart traffic lights and vehicle-to-infrastructure sensors are some of the tools the Transportation Department would like to see cities include in their transportation systems.

smart city

Mayors from the seven finalist cities – Portland, Kansas City, Columbus, San Francisco, Denver, Austin and Pittsburgh – presented their final pitches to a full audience at the Long View Gallery that included number of top DOT officials like Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief Mark Rosekind. Though there was a lot of hooting and whistling throughout the event, it didn’t come from DOT’s folks, who managed to maintain an Alex Trebek level of impartial cool.

“I think transportation is no longer getting from point A to point B,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said as he addressed rows of federal officials. “It’s really how people connect to the city they love.”

According to Lee, San Francisco’s smart city plan would result in a 10 percent reduction in vehicle-related fatalities and in carbon emissions.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said smart infrastructure technology could connect Austin residents to jobs, health care and other resources and help close the city’s yawning economic disparities. Albeit peppered with an assortment of Steel town sports references, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto shared a similar dream of designing a smarter city that would reconnect neighborhoods that had been split from the city’s center decades ago to create freight corridors.

Meanwhile, Kansas City Mayor Sly James noted that his city was already one of the most connected in the country. Selecting Kansas City would not only be a boon for the city’s resident, but the partnership also would make DOT look good, James said.

Each of the finalist cities were awarded a $100,000 grant to further develop their proposals. Foxx told reporters at the event that the DOT had a tough task ahead in choosing the Smart City Challenge winner but expected the selection to be made by the end of this month.

Seventy-eight cities applied for the competition, which will provide a $40 million grant from the DOT and as much as an additional $10 million from Vulcan Inc. The DOT announced Thursday that it also would partner with AT&T to provide $1 million in hardware, products and services. Other partners include Amazon Web Services, Mobileye, Autodesk, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs and NXP.