Specialist Says Valley Has Foundation for Smart Transit Network

GIRARD, Ohio — A global specialist in developing “smart” transportation networks says the Mahoning Valley already has some of the basic infrastructure to support a sophisticated hub of its own.

“The beauty of this area is the physical infrastructure is already here,” says Barry Einsig, vice president of California-based Econolite Systems. “Building a data infrastructure above that and bringing in all the stakeholders can make a huge difference.”

Einsig was the keynote speaker Friday morning at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Good Morning, Trumbull breakfast at the Provence Mills Event Center on North State St. here.

“Like most industries, transportation is becoming a technology industry,” he says. 

A particular target to develop such technology is the North Jackson-Lordstown corridor in Trumbull County, anchored by projects such as the new TJX HomeGoods distribution center and Ultium Cells’ $2.3 billion electric-vehicle battery manufacturing plant.

Studies are underway to transform thoroughfares such as Bailey Road, Hallock Young Road and portions of Interstate 80 near the Ultium plant into a smart logistics hub, equipped with some of the latest automated and driver-assistance technology in transportation. 

Much of this technology is geared toward safety and efficiency, Einsig says. Critical to this is establishing network connectivity between vehicles as they move along the highway, he says.

Interstate 80 is a perfect example. “One of the first connected vehicle pilot programs was in Wyoming along I-80,” he says.

The system lacked safety warnings in the event of whiteout conditions during severe snowstorms, he says.

“They don’t have a way to warn all following drivers of when whiteout conditions causes an accident,” he says. “Then, you wind up with pile-ups.”

Through connected vehicle technology, instant alerts could be piped to vehicles miles away, avoiding disasters and potentially saving lives.

The objective would be to use the interstate as a data backbone and then tie-in to regional access arteries that are served by I-80, such as Lordstown and Youngstown.  “What you create is a connected automated system where you could move from the local area on to the major hub,” he says.  

Such a network would also open new opportunities for efficiencies such as in-road charging, work zone data exchanges, automated trucks and platooning, in which a lead vehicle pilots a convoy of unmanned automated trucks, Einsig says. 

The interstate already has a fiber-optic platform, he says, but the idea is to connect that system with distribution facilities, rail yards and manufacturers, Einsig says.  “It connects them on to one common network,” he says. 

This technology is even more imperative as the country faces global supply chain issues, he adds.  “It’s impacting our mobility.”

Einsig, who once worked for Cisco Systems, helped build that company’s global transportation strategy and worked on complex data transportation issues in places such as Singapore.

Dan Crouse of Platz Realty raised the question of whether these transportation networks are secure. 

Einsig compared these networks to the digital platforms used by local banks or a health care provider.

“They need to be this secure,” he says. About 90% of all cyberattacks are through phishing and malware that originate in emails, he says, but it is still a concern that requires strong, reliable systems. 

Also speaking at the event Friday were Don Thomas of Platz Realty Group, which sponsored the breakfast; Sabrina Jones of the National Center for Urban Solutions; and Jordan Taylor, general manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

Thomas pointed to a growing interest of potential out-of town prospects looking to this region for additional business development. 

“We’re seeing inquiries from out-of-the area business at a pace that’s unheard of,” Thomas told guests at the breakfast.  “We’re seeing inquiries from places as far as South Korea for properties here in the Mahoning Valley.”

Thomas emphasized expansions at Youngstown State University, the region’s additive manufacturing presence and the growing energy sector as key indicators of how the Mahoning Valley is moving forward. 

“I think that with a group like this, we should be shouting from the highest mountaintops that good things are happening in the Mahoning Valley,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.