Wisconsin officials are studying the possibility of establishing what could be the first dedicated interstate freeway lanes for autonomous vehicles in the U.S. The project would be part of ongoing infrastructure upgrades related to a massive new factory planned by Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group.
The development was reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which says the region faces several challenges in preparing for the new facility near Racine in the state’s southeast corner, where Foxconn says up to 13,000 workers will produce LCD flat screens. State lawmakers have reportedly already earmarked money to widen Interstate 94 to eight lanes and improve local roads, and briefed Foxconn on those accomplishments.
“And we were all dumbstruck when they looked at us and said, ‘So where’s the autonomous vehicle lane?'” Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, was quoted as saying. One option under consideration is driverless lanes between the Foxconn factory and Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport to ferry supplies and products to and from the plant.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in September signed legislation establishing $3 billion in incentives for Foxconn, split about evenly between physical plant assets and job-creation metrics. The package also allows the company to bypass state environmental rules protecting wetlands and other waterways.
Foxconn has pledged to invest up to $10 billion in the new plant, which would be the size of 11 football fields and potentially create 22,000 spinoff jobs. The company is best known for manufacturing the iPhone, and employs hundreds of thousands of workers in China and other countries, where it has amassed a checkered record on labor conditions.
In Seattle, officials are also studying a proposal to create autonomous vehicle lanes on I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, the Journal Sentinel reports.