Economic analysis of automated electric highway systems for commercial freight vehicles

Lavrenz, Steven
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Commercial highway trucking is a critical component for the reliable and inexpensive transport of freight goods in the United States. In addition to handling over 60% of all goods at some point in the transportation process, the number of truck ton-miles is increasing at a much higher rate than general vehicle miles traveled and lane miles of highway constructed. This growth will set the stage in the coming years for several critical issues that must be overcome by the trucking industry, such as congestion, safety concerns, emissions and fuel use. In order to overcome these challenges, it is evident that a radical approach must be considered to reducing the adverse effects of this mode of transportation, such as the development of an automated electric highway system (AEHS) for these commercial freight vehicles. The AEHS would be comprised of a grade separated system of autonomously controlled freight vehicles, with motive power supplied by inductive or magnetic resonant coupling with an electric source in the roadway.

This thesis establishes a first-of-its-kind comprehensive economic analysis of the AEHS, including a detailing of the costs and benefits associated with a specific corridor of analysis. While various iterations of automated and electrified infrastructures have been analyzed for over 30 years, little has been done to quantify the components necessary to begin the process of economic decision-making with respect to investment and operations. The proposed methodology identifies numerous direct and indirect costs and benefits associated with a hypothetical implementation of this technology on the Interstate 70 corridor in Missouri during the period 2011-2040. This methodology draws on basic principles of quantifying benefits such as travel time savings and user cost savings from reduced crashes and congestion, and utilizes detailed construction cost information developed by the Missouri DOT for a system of conventional truck-only lanes along the same corridor. Furthermore, the EPA-developed MOVES software was used to estimate the impacts on emissions and energy use along the AEHS corridor as part of the benefit-cost analysis.

The estimation results suggest that application of AEHS on the study corridor would be economically feasible, with a positive net value in terms of present costs and benefits of approximately $2.4 trillion over the 30-year project lifecycle. Additionally, it is estimated that petroleum use would decrease by over 25%, while emissions would decrease by up to 27%, depending on the pollutant being considered. Various sensitivity analyses were also performed, in order to assess the impact of different demand estimates for the system, along with varying estimates of the costs associated with the technology components on the AEHS. While the final economic evaluation outputs were sensitive with respect to these factors, it was found that these sensitivities were relatively inelastic, and that even for the worst-case cost and benefit scenarios, the project was economically favorable to pursue.

This thesis represents one of the first attempts to quantify the direct and indirect costs and benefits of this widely discussed technology, and can serve as a guiding methodology for evaluation of upcoming intelligent transportation system technologies.

Automated Highways, Benefit-Cost Analysis, Electric Highways, Freight Transportation