Virginia Smart Roads

The Virginia Smart Roads are state-of-the-art, closed test-bed research facilities managed by VTTI in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

In 2000, VTTI opened the original Virginia Smart Road, the highway section, in partnership with VDOT. The Smart Road became one of the world’s most advanced testing facilities for transportation technology and safety research, with more than 30,000 hours of research conducted on the road since its opening. As the needs of the transportation community have evolved, so has the Smart Road. In November 2017, VTTI launched the Virginia Smart Roads, a suite of test tracks that enable advanced-vehicle testing in a comprehensive cross section of roadways. The Smart Roads play a critical role in the overall success of the institute and its research mission--to save lives.

The Virginia Smart Roads are FAA approved testing facilities for UAS.

Test beds and facilities

The Virginia Smart Roads consists of five sub-facilities:


Highway Section

The Highway section (original Smart Road) is a 2.2-mile long controlled-access test track built to Federal Highway Administration standards. The road is equipped with advanced research infrastructure and has the following features

  • Two paved lanes
  • Three bridges, including the Smart Road Bridge (the 2nd tallest state-maintained bridge in Virginia)
  • Full-time staff that coordinate all road activities and oversee operations
  • 24/7 access control and oversight
  • Lighting and weather system controls
  • Safety oversight and surveillance
  • Nine roadside equipment units (DSRC) that facilitate connected-vehicle communications
  • Two mobile roadside equipment sites (DSRC)
  • Fourteen pavement sections, including an open-grade friction course
  • In-pavement sensors, including moisture, temperature, strain, vibration, and weigh-in-motion
  • An adjacent zero-crown pavement section designed for flooded pavement testing
  • An American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)-designated surface friction testing facility
  • 88 weather-making towers
  • Artificial snow production of up to four inches per hour (based on suitable weather conditions)
  • Production of differing intensities of rain with varying droplet sizes
  • Fog production
  • Two weather stations
  • Official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Forecast Office within one mile
  • Lighting test facility with variable pole spacing and height designed to replicate 95 percent of national highway systems
  • Multiple luminaire heads, including light-emitting diode (LED) modules
  • An optical fiber network spanning the Highway section
  • Ethernet fiber transceivers and Ethernet switches
  • A differential GPS broadcast for precise vehicle locating, covering the entire facility
  • A signalized intersection with complete signal phase and timing (SPaT) using remote controls and DSRC
  • Wide shoulder areas for safe maneuvering during experimental testing

Surface Street

Surface Street Expansion

The recently completed Surface Street facilitates advanced/automated testing in configurable environments such as suburban neighborhoods and city intersections. This facility provides users an unprecedented opportunity to study challenging transportation questions, such as pedestrian risk in urban environments. Data collected from testing on the Surface Street will maximize the safety and performance benefits of advanced-vehicle technologies. Some key features include:

  • Portable, reconfigurable buildings and other infrastructure elements
  • Multiple actor (e.g., multiple vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists) scenarios
  • Reconfigurable roundabout
  • Multiple merge areas
  • Reconfigurable automation-compatible pavement markings
  • Multilane layouts
  • Signalized intersections with various geometries and numbers of lanes
  • Multiple parking and passenger pick-up/drop-off areas
  • Connectivity to backend computational networks via cellular and DSRC modes

Live Roadway Connector

Live Roadway Connector

The live roadway connector links the highway section (Smart Road) directly to U.S. 460 Business in Blacksburg, Virginia. Equipped with traffic control devices and protocols, this connector allows VTTI to route test vehicles seamlessly between a live traffic environment and closed test tracks, enabling long-duration studies. The live roadway connector:

  • Links the Smart Roads directly to public roads
  • Increases the length of the Smart Road by 1/2 mile
  • Includes a turn-around at the far end
  • Allows users to study issues such as driver readiness to assume vehicular control after long periods under automated mode and how drivers may occupy their time in full automation mode (e.g., reading or sleeping)

Automation Hub

Automation Hub

Located within the Surface Street, the Automation Hub is designed to facilitate short-turnaround projects focused on advanced-vehicle testing in collaboration with VDOT, Virginia Tech, and VTTI researchers along with industry leaders and students. In addition to VTTI researchers, the Automation Hub houses interns participating in InternHub, an interdisciplinary advanced learning program focused on accelerating practical skill development for students. Interns collaborating with Virginia Tech faculty and industry partners have direct access to the Smart Roads through the Automation Hub.

Rural Roadway Expansion (Opening 2019)

Rural Roadway Expansion

The Rural Roadway Expansion is a unique testing facility designed to recreate the challenges of rural roads, which account for two-thirds of all roadways in the U.S. The roads within this expansion are being built to older (1965) standards, allowing users to test advanced and autonomous vehicles in realistic rural settings. The final facility will including hilly and flat winding roads with short site distances, interfering terrain, natural foliage, small bridges, narrow sections, off-road segments, soft grass shoulders, and rural intersections. Vehicles will be able to connect directly to the Rural Roadway Expansion from the Highway section. The Rural Roadway Expansion will support the testing necessary to safely and efficiently deploy automated and autonomous vehicles in challenging rural environments that exist in the U.S.

Control Room

Smart Road Control Room

VTTI houses the Smart Roads Control Room through which research is scheduled and overseen.

Controllers monitor the Smart Roads from a computer-equipped control center. Researchers can observe traffic and driver performance using surveillance cameras available in the control room. Engineers can also control the lighting and the weather on the Highway section.