Bellows Falls eyes state automated cars program

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BELLOWS FALLS — Bellows Falls wants to be on the list when the state starts testing automated cars.

State transportation officials recently outlined a new state program that would allow automated cars to operate on Bellows Falls roads as a pilot program.

Joe Segale, director of policy, planning and research for the Agency of Transportation, said Vermont was starting to solicit towns to participate in the test, but he told the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees that the state didn't even have its application forms ready yet.

He said the town of Springfield also expressed interest in the program, and he said to have adjoining towns would be a plus.

Segale said the autonomous vehicles have cameras that provide a 360-degree view to detect traffic lights and road signs, and several different kinds of radar systems to monitor and adjust to other traffic and pedestrians.

Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright had earlier expressed interest in the vehicle testing program.

"It is an option that is going to be there," she said.

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In a follow-up interview, Wright said she feels automated cars are inevitable in the future, and once tested and fine-tuned to be safe, they could benefit many.

She said Bellows Falls is not served by a taxi company, nor is it served by Lyft or Uber. Many people either don't want to own cars or can't afford them, she said, and a ride service, run with automated cars, could be a great benefit.

She said she expects automated cars would start in the commercial sector, such as delivery vehicles, and then become useful for private individuals.

She said she had attended meetings sponsored by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns in the past, and there was no interest by communities serving as the test communities. Since then, she said, Bellows Falls has come forward, as has neighboring Springfield.

Segale and Michael Obuchowski, VTrans executive assistant, attended the Bellows Falls Village Trustees meeting last week. Obuchowski represented the town of Rockingham in the Vermont House of Representatives for more than 30 years, stepping down in 2011 when he moved to Montpelier to become a member of Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration.

Wright said the fact that Bellows Falls is relatively small and concentrated, and has a wide variety of driving terrain packed into short distances, make it a good community for the test.

"The application isn't even ready yet," she said. "Our board is interested. We would move forward once the application is ready. I don't think anything is going to happen in the next year," she said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com


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