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The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech are partnering on a research project to test connected vehicle technology, and one of the primary test sites will be in the Fairfax area.

These technologies allow vehicles on the road to communicate with one another, and to receive messages about construction, lane closures, detours and other important information for drivers.

Using this technology can reduce the incidence of vehicle crashes by 50 percent, said Thomas Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and could also reduce congestion and vehicle emissions.

“We truly believe it is the next step to a new and improved transportation system,” said Cathy McGhee, associate director for safety, operations and traffic engineering at the Virginia Department of Transportation.

A connected vehicle test bed has been set up in a 4-square-mile area, including sections of Interstate 66, Route 50 and Route 29 between Interstate 495 and Nutley Steet.

“This is going to make Virginia a leader,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who announced the launch of the research program at a media event near VDOT’s Fairfax operations center last week.

There are 12 test vehicles outfitted to collect research data from the Fairfax County test bed, including cars, motorcycles, a bus and a tractor-trailer.

The vehicles are outfitted with a device the size of a regular GPS unit that also issues warnings when two vehicles outfitted with the device are on a collision course. VDOT can transmit information to vehicles with these devices to alert drivers about possible hazards.

Connected vehicle systems will be easier to implement than the automated vehicle technology that is being tested in other parts of the country, Dingus said. The devices are relatively inexpensive, at about $35 apiece, and they can be installed after-market.

The researchers are also partnering with some car companies, who provided vehicles for the testing and could integrate this technology into future vehicle models.

Most industry experts believe this technology will be in use within five to 10 years, Dingus said.

“They’re mostly banking on it being widely available in about eight years,” he said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com