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Region chosen as autonomous vehicle proving ground

The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated the San Diego region as one of ten proving grounds for autonomous vehicles in the nation. The region has advanced features in its local transportation network and a global reputation as a high-tech hub for research and wireless innovations.

“This is great news for the San Diego region,” SANDAG Chair and County Supervisor Ron Roberts said. “We are at the start of a new transportation era, and it’s tremendously exciting for our region to be part of a national initiative to foster innovations and best practices that will enable the safe deployment of driverless vehicles.”

SANDAG, Caltrans, and the City of Chula Vista jointly submitted the application to the federal government for the designation. The application garnered support from major auto manufacturers and technology companies, including Toyota, Qualcomm, Teradata, and DENSO International America, Inc. To see the list of supporters and other background materials related to this initiative, visit this SANDAG web page.

“The designated proving grounds will collectively form a Community of Practice around safe testing and deployment,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing and operations as they are developed, enabling the participant and the general public to learn at a faster rate and accelerating the pace of safe deployment.”

As part of the nationwide pilot, proving ground sites will bring together auto manufacturers, local cities, public agencies and private companies to test autonomous vehicles on designated facilities. The test sites will share information and work together to develop best practices.

“Caltrans is proud to join with SANDAG, the City of Chula Vista, and private partners in envisioning, and preparing for, innovative technologies like autonomous vehicles on our roadways,” said Laurie Berman, Director of Caltrans District 11, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties.  “We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation has chosen our region as one of ten national proving grounds – and the only one featuring a state/regional/local/private partnership – to foster testing and share knowledge regarding automated vehicle technologies.”  

“This is great news for the City of Chula Vista,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas. “We look forward to working with the USDOT, SANDAG, and Caltrans in transforming transportation by testing the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles.”

The San Diego region has three distinct proving ground environments:

The I-15 Express Lanes

The I-15 Express Lanes runs 20 miles from SR 163 in San Diego to SR 78 in Escondido. Often referred to as a freeway within a freeway, the facility is already a local testbed for modern traffic management technology. It includes state-of-the-art features, such as a movable barrier in the center median allowing for traffic lanes to be reconfigured, direct access ramps connecting to modern transit stations, new Rapid services, and a dynamic tolling system  that allows solo drivers to use excess capacity on the carpool lanes for a fee.

In 1997, before the completion of the Express Lanes, the I-15 was the site of an autonomous vehicle demonstration.

The South Bay Expressway

Operated by SANDAG, the South Bay Expressway a 10-mile tolled facility that runs through Eastern Chula Vista and provides access to the U.S.-Mexico border.  The toll road has a number of traffic management assets that make it ideal for autonomous vehicle testing, including closed circuit TVs and an operations center that has space for staging equipment.

City of Chula Vista

The local network of streets and roadways in Chula Vista.

To ensure the safe testing of autonomous vehicles in the region, two safety officers will be designated to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Caltrans will have a safety officer assigned to the I-15 Express Lanes and the South Bay Expressway. Chula Vista will have a safety officer assigned for testing on local city streets.

Project Manager(s)

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or