The US Department of Transportation was supposed to announce five finalists for its Smart Cities Challenge, a $40 million competition designed to get American cities thinking about the wave of innovative transportation technologies about to reach the market.

That didn't happen Saturday.

Instead, Secretary Anthony Foxx (pictured above) said the department had such a difficult time winnowing the list of finalists from 78 applications, that the department decided to expand its list of finalists to seven cities. With a winner slated to be selected in June, the finalists are: Austin, Texas; Denver Colorado; Portland, Oregon; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and San Francisco, California.

Foxx made the announcement Saturday at the Connected Mobility Showcase, part of the South By Southwest festivities in Austin.

Even for the cities that didn't go forward, Foxx said the competition has helped 78 cities begin thinking about the ways autonomous, electrified, shared vehicles and data-driven solutions can help tackle big problems from climate change to congestion. "They can think anew about how transportation can be the driving force of our American economy," he said. "We believe at the Department of Transportation that as the competition goes forward, we have a responsibility to all 78 of these cities to help them figure out a pathway to get to those plans done that they have put on paper.

For the finalists, they have two months to submit additional plans on how they would take their plans from conception to reality. The winning city is scheduled to be announced in June 2016. In addition to $40 million in federal dollars, the winning city will receive $10 million from Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. Mobileye, a provider of sensor technology in transportation, has said it would retrofit public transit buses in the winning city with new sensors that can detect pedestrians and warn drivers of their presence.

Foxx said the competition has been made possible since Congress approved a bill that provided long-term transportation funding in December, which followed years of short-term budgets and uncertainty.
"The deep, dark winter of transportation planning, when we didn't have a long-term sustainable transportation planning at the local level, when our cities sort of stopped thinking about the future in a bold new way, is over," he said.

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