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Bismarck city officials are considering adding a driverless bus to the Capital Area Transit fleet as part of a pilot program testing the use of autonomous vehicle technology on the city streets.

If approved, the bus would be rented for six months from March through October 2019, said Bismarck City Engineer Gabe Schell.

With the city commission’s approval, the engineering department would apply for North Dakota Department of Transportation Urban Grant Funding, a program that divvies out federal funding statewide to cities with a population of 5,000 or more, to cover the majority of the cost of a six-month lease.

Total cost would be in the range of $75,000 to $85,000 to rent the bus, with the city required to chip in 20 percent of the funding.

The cost share could be included in the 2019 budget if the grant is awarded. If the grant is not awarded, the city could pursue this demonstration using local dollars should the commission choose to move forward.

The state is expected to have at least $4.6 million and up to $7.6 million in Urban Grant Funding to award statewide.

Schell said the initial concept is to run a route between downtown and the Capitol grounds. The exact streets for this route would be developed with the advice of the vendor. The pilot program would measure impacts on city planning, design and infrastructure maintenance.

The technology is being applied in other cities, Schell said. City staff has done some research on a pilot program being run in Minnesota as well as autonomous bus operations in Las Vegas. In the city commission agenda, Schell wrote that a fixed route, such as the one run by Capital Area Transit, allows for autonomous vehicles to accurately map their path and use multiple systems to sense other vehicles or objects as it moves along the path.

Schell said Bis-Man Transit Executive Director Roy Rickert expressed support for the project and operational support if the grant is awarded.

The Urban Grant Funding program is a reallocation of a portion of existing programs - about $1 million each from DOT funding for urban regional routes, urban roads, the transportation enhancement program that pays for projects like sidewalks and the rural state highway program - said Ron Henke, NDDOT deputy director of engineering.

Henke said the state’s ND Streets Program, which is available to cities with populations less than 5,000 is still active but sometimes the state doesn’t get enough applications for those dollars. If any of this funding is not applied for, it could also be added to the Urban Grant Funding, where larger towns have more capacity to meet the match funding requirements.

Henke said projects that apply for Urban Grant Funding must be for a federal aid eligible route, help with the state’s transportation program goals, or help improve the roadway. He said buses, warming huts, benches and lighting are also eligible.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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