Gateway Station, Downtown. Photo by Ed Massery.

Mayor Bill Peduto says Pittsburgh is about to experience something “monumental,” when it comes to transportation technology, and the city is positioned to lead the way, thanks to its partnerships with universities and other regional organizations.

Pittsburgh is one of seven finalists for the Smart City Challenge. It’s an initiative of the U.S. Department of Transportation aimed at integrating technologies like self-driving cars and connected vehicles into a city’s transportation network.

Pittsburgh is in a more favorable position than the other cities, the mayor says, because the technology that will lead the way for future development is already being developed here.

“This is where the world is going. The question is, will Pittsburgh be a leader?”

The winner of the challenge will get up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build technology-based transportation systems. Seattle-based philanthropic investment firm Vulcan Inc. has pledged an additional $10 million to the winning city, to support electric vehicle deployment and other carbon emission reduction strategies.

“I want to thank Secretary Foxx, the Department of Transportation as well as our partners in Pittsburgh who supported our application for recognizing how many of these resources we already have ready to go at our disposal,” Peduto said in a statement announcing the challenge.

“From our existing work in energy and transportation, our great partnerships with foundations and private sector businesses, and the internationally-known work by our world-class universities, we are well positioned to lead this initiative forward.”

The team behind the application included Allegheny County, Carnegie Mellon University’s Metro21 and Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation Center, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

“We are thrilled with this announcement, and proud to be a part of this effort,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “To be one of seven national finalists is rewarding, and reflects the mayor’s continued work with President Obama, selling our city as a future city, a city on the move.”

In announcing the award at the South by Southwest festival in Austin over the weekend, Foxx said the response to the challenge was “overwhelming,” and far exceeded expectations.

“We chose to select seven finalists instead of five because of their outstanding potential to transform the future of urban transportation,” Foxx said in a statement.

Peduto said for Pittsburgh, the Smart City Challenge isn’t just about promoting transportation and energy-related technologies, but applying those efforts to improve the lives of everyday Pittsburghers. Among the goals is creating new transportation options for underserved neighborhoods, which would be designed on an open platform, encouraging collaboration by the private sector.

The Transportation Department’s Beyond Traffic 2045 study has found that communities will see rapid population growth over the next several decades, which will mean more demands on transportation infrastructure. The Smart City Challenge is aimed at helping cities manage the difficulties of these trends, and to explore the possibilities technology offers.

The Steel City is competing with Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Portland, Ore. and San Francisco for the top prize, after the field was narrowed from some 80 cities that applied for the challenge last month. Pittsburgh and the other cities all received $100,000 to finalize their applications for the program, due next month. The winner of the challenge will be announced in June.

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor always on the lookout for a great story. Her experience includes writing about business, politics, and local news, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh.