When we think of work zones, we often picture workers carrying out planned maintenance, such as street resurfacing or repainting. Planned maintenance isn’t the only reason for road work, though, there can also be the need for emergency repairs. Natural disasters can cause significant damage to roads, from cracks and potholes all the way up to massive sinkholes. Emergency repairs for this sudden road damage require traffic diversions for a safe route around the damage. What if our cars could instantly know when that new route was available?

A Real-World Example

Take, for instance, California State Route 92 (CA 92). On the night of January 11th, 2023, a sinkhole opened on CA 92. On January 11th, 2023, heavy rainfall pounded the San Mateo County region of California, and by the end of the day, it made its mark. By 3 am that night, the highway had sagged into a sinkhole wide enough to swallow an entire lane, and it eventually collapsed into a massive pit, several feet deep. This caused a portion of CA 92 to be shut down for emergency repairs.

The sudden appearance of the sinkhole caused significant disruptions to the daily routine of commuters, truck drivers, and public transit users, causing congestion and increased travel times as motorists were forced to detour around the damage. For autonomous vehicles, the sudden road closure presented a unique challenge: autonomously finding a new route, and ensuring the safety of their passengers.

First to Know

In the case of CA 92’s sinkhole, temporary pavement markings were laid down to guide traffic around the sinkhole on January 21st. This was a full day prior to the news of them being published to the public. Imagine knowing about the temporary markings the day before the public did and re-entering that road segment at the earliest possible moment. Then, knowing when those temporary markings are replaced, enables that segment to be updated once more.

Natural disasters can impact when roads need to be updated and interrupt autonomous accessibility. Knowing when natural disasters have shut roads down and caused road changes is a powerful tool that empowers AV companies to make smarter, actionable decisions.

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