Smart Road Facts


Three-purpose roadway: link from Blacksburg to I-81; real-life laboratory for public and private research; economic stimulus for New River and Roanoke valleys

  • Joint project of Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute and Federal Highway Administration
  • Test facility for innovations to include VDOT’s Smart Travel program of intelligent transportation systems (ITS)
  • Nation’s only roadway test bed that also will handle regular traffic
  • Controlled lighting and ability to generate various forms of precipitation

Potential Benefits

  • Reduce fog and visibility problems on mountain roads
  • Improve pavement marking visibility at night and in wet weather
  • Improve highway lighting
  • Avoid car pileups due to icy bridges
  • Improve truck and driver safety
  • Evaluate advanced snow plows and emergency vehicles
  • Reduce pavement and bridge maintenance costs
  • Evaluate and improve advanced vehicle safety systems


Phase 1 - completed

  • 1.7-mile, two-lane test bed on four-lane right-of-way now open for research
  • Western end has large turnaround for normal-speed turns by test vehicles. Will link with Route 460 Business and Bypass and new Blacksburg interchange for 460 Bypass (under construction) for regular traffic when phase 3 completed
  • Prime contractor: Vecellio & Grogan Inc. of Beckley, W. Va.
  • Groundbreaking, July 8, 1997
  • Construction completed in March 2000

Phase 2 – completed

    • 2,000-foot bridge and 200 yards of roadway will complete two-mile test track, with eastern end turnaround to allow non-stop test driving
    • Prime contractor: PCL Civil Constructors Inc. of Canada
    • Bridge designer: Figg Engineering Inc. of Florida
    • Bridge construction completed in May 2001

Phase 3

  • Build 3.7 miles to I-81 interchange at milepost 121, and eastbound lanes to bypass test track
  • Construction will begin when funding becomes available.


  • Widen to four lanes entire 5.7 miles; right-of-way has been acquired

All Weather Testing - .5 Mile

  • 75 weather towers that rotate 360 degrees and pivot to handle changing wind conditions
  • At peak height of 40 feet, towers can make up to two inches of rain per hour in droplets of various sizes, or up to four inches of snow, or a layer of ice on road in cold weather
  • Operating parameters (air pressure and flow, water pressure and flow) can be duplicated consistently
  • When snow or rain is being made in the future, normal traffic will bypass test bed on two adjacent lanes that eventually will become part of a four-lane highway
  • 500,000-gallon water tank allows operation at peak capacity; at peak capacity, system uses 180,000 gallons per hour

Experimental Lighting - .8 Mile

  • Three kinds of overhead lights on height-adjustable poles configured to simulate 40-, 60-, 80- and 120-meter spacings
  • Dimming system helps provide added variability
  • Off-set system of lights, seven feet from road shoulder and 60 feet apart
  • Overlapping lighting and all-weather sections will aid development of higher visibility highway markings and signs
  • Research will compare ultraviolet (UV) headlights and UV-sensitive signs and markings with conventional headlights and markings

Experimental Pavement & Electronic Network

  • 12 "Superpave" asphalt sections and two concrete designs on two-mile test track
  • Fiber-optic cable linking more than 400 electronic sensors to monitor concrete stress, asphalt strain, soil pressure, moisture penetration, frost depth, vehicle speed/weight, and traffic counts
  • Embedded in one overpass, wire mesh cathodic prevention system to avoid salt and chemical corrosion in steel rebar
  • 3M magnetic tape to measure vehicle lane deviations and help assess driver performance Future mag tape research may involve guidance alarms for snowplows and other vehicles
  • Outside road shoulders, buried network of power and data conduits accessible via underground junction boxes that protect equipment from weather and traffic
  • Accessible, lateral conduits, connecting junction sites on both sides of road, can handle additional power and data needs as test road is extended
  • In the future, overhead variable message signs and sensors
  • In the future, "toolbox" on road will include Global Position System to help measure driver performance, and back up automated control systems
  • In the future, local area wireless network for short-range communications, and future ITS applications, such as automated highway systems, position location, data collection from sensors, and dynamic in-vehicle information systems

Control Center

  • 30,000-square-foot building at road’s western end provides monitoring and control of pavement sensors, power grids, surveillance cameras, weather generation, lighting and overhead message signs, and communication with test vehicles
  • Office space for Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute, VDOT’s Transportation Research Council, and companies that contract to use Smart Road
  • Garage and shop for experimental vehicles
  • Footprint for three additional buildings

Bridge Over Wilson Creek and Route 723

  • Virginia’s tallest bridge – road surface 170 feet high (12 feet higher than I-295 Varina-Enon Bridge near Richmond)
  • Cantilever construction with cast-in-place segments and concrete-embedded, post-tensioned steel cable – as in Richmond’s Lee Bridge
  • Average span almost 397 feet long, including three 472-foot spans (Lee Bridge average span is 285 feet; spans on most bridges average 150 feet)
  • Concrete box structure beneath driving surface will carry power and communication lines entire length of bridge, with access points through surface to accommodate test equipment
  • Concrete in four bridge piers double the strength that most bridge decks require
  • Reinforcing steel in piers twice as thick as rebar in standard bridges
  • Proceeding outward from each pier, concrete is poured in 15-foot segments, alternating from side to side for balance, until bridge arms meet midway between the piers
  • Steel "tendons" in bridge deck are tensioned after concrete is poured, imparting some of the properties of a suspension bridge. They are primarily what holds the bridge up, especially during construction
  • Tan-colored beams taper in height from 34 feet at piers to 14 feet at mid-span
  • Faces of four-sided piers inlaid with decorative, "Hokie"-type stone

Return to the Smart Road project summary page.

Page last modified: Oct. 14, 2012