The Ray seeking funds for highway safety drone program

Published 9:30 am Thursday, November 3, 2022

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The Ray could be bringing a program to Troup County that would pay for drones for highway emergencies.

On Tuesday, Allie Kelly, Executive Director of The Ray, requested support from the county for a federal transportation grant application to pay for the potential drone program.

The grant would pay for drones and pilot training for a program that would send unmanned aircraft to traffic safety emergencies on Troup County highways, including The Ray.

The Ray is an 18-mile stretch of Interstate 85 in Troup County that was designated by Congress as the Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway after his passing in 2011. Since then, the portion of the interstate highway has become a living laboratory for transportation innovation with the help of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Kelly said that since 2014 they have worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and the Federal Highways Administration on more than a dozen projects on the 18-mile corridor.

Kelly asked the commissioners to support their request for funds from the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant, which could provide up to $500 million in federal funding over five years. The competitive grant prioritizes innovative technology uses including unmanned aircraft systems.

“We want to work with [Troup County] to use drones as first eyes on the scene of an incident to keep first responders safe when they’re responding to an incident and to manage the incident as most efficiently as possible,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the drones they are considering can take video and photos for potentially identifying fires and fuel spills. The drones are also equipped with heat cameras to aid in locating ejected passengers.

Kelly said if the funds are approved they could be operated by a representative from the 911 office, Georgia State Patrol Post or GDOT.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently does not allow the remote operation of drones.

“The FAA is going to —and we know this— maybe in a year or two, but the FAA is going to begin releasing authorizations for remote ops,” Kelly said. “We want Troup County to be first in line, not last in line.”

The program would pay for training for drone pilots so they can begin as soon as the FAA allows it.

“We want to get you into some of the best equipment possible, we want to get you filed for your authorizations and clearances with the FAA, we want to get you log-in hours, and we want to get you on a management platform that will document your hours,” Kelly said.

The grant requires no matching funds, so it’s highly competitive, Kelly said, noting she isn’t asking for any money from the county, just their support with the project.

The grant is open to anyone in the public sector, so The Ray needs the county to sign on to even apply for the grant.

“We’ve got a budget crafted that covers the equipment, the training and the regulatory piece,” Kelly said. “We still need to add the human resources and other overhead that Troup County would want to include.”

Unlike many grants, the funds can also be used to pay the wages of employees, such as potential drone operators and for their training.

During the subsequent commissioner’s meeting Tuesday evening, the county agreed to join in the SMART grant application. County Manager Eric Mosley said staff would begin working with The Ray to finalize the grant request.