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DENVER — Denver is one of seven finalists for the country’s first “Smart City” and a $50 million prize.

The “Smart City” challenge will choose one city to define what it means to be a “Smart City” and become the country’s first to fully integrate innovative technologies — such as self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors — into their transportation network.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Denver along with Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco as the finalists.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has pledged up to $40 million and Vulcan added $10 million to the pot for the winning city.

“We want to win this, make no mistake about it,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said. “This is a big deal. I don’t want to understate that.”

Denver’s population is growing rapidly and so is the traffic.

“The whole world is moving to Denver right now,” Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shailen Bhatt said. “We have a transportation system that was designed in the ’50s, built in the ’60s, for a population of the 1980s in Colorado.”

Technology has advanced since then, so the idea is to use it to improve mobility.

“Instead of having to widen a highway or roadways, we can use the system and technology to move traffic more efficiently,” Bhatt said.

It might sound crazy, but the idea of self-driving cars — and an entire signal system connected by a database — is not far off.

“I will guarantee you that one of these days in the near future you’re going to look over at somebody typing on a laptop — legally — because the car is driving itself,” Bhatt said.

The seven finalists have about 10 weeks to put their best proposal together. The DOT will announce a winner in June. And Hancock promises to give Denver its best shot.

“What we’re doing here is building a framework today,” Hancock said. “But it’s more importantly for tomorrow.”