Driverless cars to be tested on N.C. 540 Triangle Expressway toll road

The Waymo driverless car is displayed during a Google event Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in San Francisco.
The Waymo driverless car is displayed during a Google event Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in San Francisco. AP

Federal transportation officials on Friday picked North Carolina’s Interstate 540 Triangle Expressway toll road as one of 10 testing sites around the country for driverless car technology.

The N.C. Turnpike Authority applied for the program and was selected out of 60 applicants by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The 19-mile toll road connects Research Triangle Park with Cary, Apex and Holly Springs.

The Turnpike Authority’s application says the road will be available for testing by Jan. 1, 2018. It’s unclear if the testing could require road closures or if driverless cars would be operated alongside normal traffic.

“We are still waiting to hear what opportunities will come,” Turnpike Authority executive director Beau Memory said in an email Friday. “We sought this designation because we hope it is an opportunity to learn how to more safely accommodate these new technologies.

“We will not do anything to compromise the safety of our customers or the reliability of their commute.”

In its application, the Turnpike Authority touted potential partnerships with Research Triangle Park firms and transportation research programs at N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Memory wrote that the Triangle Expressway is “one of the most advanced freeways in the United States” because of its electronic toll collection system and its system for monitoring traffic conditions.

The application also notes that the toll road could help test driverless cars in construction zone conditions because new interchanges are under construction at Morrisville Parkway and Old Holly Springs-Apex Road.

North Carolina doesn’t yet have any laws governing the use of driverless cars, and the legislature is currently studying the issue.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter