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CDOT, Panasonic to turn I-70 into a ‘smart highway’

DENVER - Panasonic announced it is partnering with the Colorado Department of Transportation to turn a stretch of Interstate 70 into a smart highway, enabling cars to communicate with each other as well as road infrastructure.

The two organizations made the announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Together, they will build a communication platform that will allow cars to share information like slick spots, road hazards and traffic jams, allowing computers in vehicles to prepare for what's ahead on the road and slow down.

The project will focus on I-70 from C-470 to Vail. The stretch of road is known for its treacherous weather conditions and heavy congestion.

CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said 600 people died in traffic accidents in Colorado this past year. Ford said the new technology could reduce the number of deaths by 90 percent.

"We think it's important to be leading in this so we can actually help save lives," she said.

In 10 to 15 years, CDOT estimates 3 to 4 million vehicles on Colorado roads will be equipped with communication capabilities. Ford said this stretch of I-70 is the perfect place to test this technology.

"We chose I-70 because it's the most difficult corridor in the country when you look at weather, the amount of congestion that we have and the extreme conditions. If you can accomplish something like this in that corridor, (this technology) can go anywhere in the world," she said.

Some drivers are excited about the project's potential.

"I think that's an excellent idea. The more technology to help us drive, the better," said Roy Bishop.

"I think it would be awesome. All the traffic would move at the same speed. Hopefully that will facilitate moving the massive amounts of cars we have on I-70 a little bit better," Terry Urban said.

Other drivers are hesitant about what's in store for the future. "It's like big brother, the eye in the sky. They are going to know everything. They are going to have all the data, it's kind of scary," Shannon Mordhorst said.

Ford said drivers of older cars will be able to purchase and install radio units that connect them to the communication platform. If people can't do that, they will still benefit from the new technology. "We'll see cars move more smoothly, congestion will even out. And they'll receive the benefit of that when they are on the road too."

CDOT is also partnering with a company called HERE that helps cars communicate through cell phones.

CDOT and Panasonic will start building the communication platform soon. They hope to start testing by the end of 2017.